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‘The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs’ review

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs, Soho Theatre, 2022
Photo by Helen Murray

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Rousingly ambitious comedy about a fractious lesbian choir

The rainbow flag offers an idealised portrait of the LGBTQ-plus community: people of different stripes co-existing in harmony, each taking up an equal amount of space. But the reality is messier, scribbled over with conflicts and inequalities. Iman Qureshi's warm, complex play 'The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs' explores just how difficult it is to create a queer space, while showing how beautiful it can be when the stars align.

Things start out in pretty formulaic style. Each week, a disparate gaggle of lesbians meet up in a leaky-roofed hall to sing in a choir, with the lofty goal of performing on the main stage at Pride. There's wildly confident womaniser Ellie (Fanta Barrie), hyper-woke academic Ana (Claudia Jolly), and her reluctantly-tagging-along butch engineer girlfriend Lori (Kibong Tanji) who turns out to have an amazing singing voice, all arranged into an approximation of harmony by self-styled OWL (older wiser lesbian) Connie (Shuna Snow).

It could all be the beginnings of a dykier, hopefully less doomed remake of 'Glee'. But Qureshi's play is way smarter than that. She toys enjoyably with lesbian cliches (sensible footwear, veganism, buzzcuts) only to reach beyond them to tell less familiar stories. Like that of Dina (an engagingly puppyish Lara Sawalha), a Muslim woman who throws herself into choir as an escape from her forbidding husband. Or that of the faltering romance between trans woman Brig (Mariah Louca), and Fi (Kiruna Stamell), who campaigns fruitlessly for a ramp so she can access the choir's hall independently, but alienates Brig when her feelings of being left behind spill out in an agonised tirade against twenty-first-century inclusivity.

Qureshi doesn't shy away from tackling transphobia, and the way it's driven a wedge between different generations of lesbians. But she also highlights the relative privilege that British queer people live in, using Dina's story to highlight the injustice of the immigration system and the suffering of closeted people in countries where homosexuality is illegal.

‘The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs’ tackles massive themes, in ways that threaten to unbalance what's fundamentally a feel-good comedy with added a capella. There's not much lesbian theatre around, so it sometimes feels like it's struggling under the weight of trying to encompass every lesbian story in one short show. But it all just about works, thanks to a septet of winning performances and Hannah Hauer-King’s taut direction. It's a warm cosy hug of a show, full of life, wit, and pathos that lingers long after its last notes fade.

Written by
Alice Saville


£12-£22. Runs 2hr 30min
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