LAST Friday (Oct 21), Aberration presented ‘Cabarration in the Great Hall’ at Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
Billed as ‘A cabaret night with a very queer bite’, Cabarration presented ‘a glitzy line-up of local and national talent’. The event was compèred by the incomparable Helen Sandler, and top of the bill was the suitably glitzy and very funny comedian Jonathan Mayor. Hailing from Manchester, Mayor had the crowd in stitches from the moment he previewed his own act to the moment he took a final, glittering bow, no mean feat in his astoundingly high-heels and flamboyant costume. With a wickedly acid tongue, Mayor’s audience put-downs were a delight to hear – if not to be on the receiving end of! Before Mayor strutted his stuff, Sparkles Hoop Troupe from Cardiff performed some dynamo dance routines with, of course, their hula hoops. Ernie Sparkles was then true to his name in his solo dirty dancing routine. Ashleigh Owen performed an extract from her one-woman show, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Hamburger Queen’, currently on stage at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool. Employing comedy, dance and song, the versatile Owen took the audience a little way down the road of her journey through life: ‘From Liverpool to London, rags to riches, Chicken Cottage to Nando’s’. Also on the bill was country singer Lynette Frances who, later in the evening, led the audience in a hysterically inept line dance.
The audience’s efforts in a limerick competition run by the author Mike Parker were judged via a ‘clap-o- meter’. The prize of a bottle of pink sparkling wine, donated by Ultracomida, went to a verse by Nicki Wilkins and Jilly Wilson that riffed on Brokeback Mountain and featured a creatively smutty rhyme for Pen Dinas. The audience numbered 150 people, ranging in age from 18 to 80. A raffle raised £221 for two good causes: an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) sanctuary house in Kampala, Uganda, for people to live in relative safety in a regime where male and female homosexuality is illegal; and West Wales Domestic Abuse Service (formerly Women’s Aid). Prizes were donated by Over the Rainbow vegetarian guesthouse, Crimson Rhino cafe and the Arts Centre. Over the Rainbow also signed up for two years as one of the event’s new sponsors. Aberration are very keen to get more local businesses to join the scheme.
Audience members told The Herald: “Sparkles, buttocks and Jonathan Mayor. Who could ask for more? Brilliant evening!” “A great relaxed evening full of sparkles, laughter, and general acceptance of all kinds of folk.” “It was a great evening with everybody out to have a good time. Bois y Fro were fantastic, Sparkles Hoop Troupe gob-smacking in more ways than one, the limerick competition was hilarious, and Jonathan Mayor made me laugh so much my stomach muscles hurt the next day! Well done, Aberration!”
OUR CHILDREN TOO
One of the evening’s highlights was certainly opening act Bois y Fro, an acapella group from Aberystwyth, who entertained the audience with their harmonies on pop classics and famous show-tunes. Accompanied on the grand piano, bass Barry Powell led on a memorable take of The Overtones’ ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’, making the whole hall resonate with his ‘Do-do-do-do-do’. Bois y Fro also sang Frankie Valli’s ‘I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, which went down well with the audience. Their rendition of ‘Bui- Doi’ from the musical Miss Saigon was moving. Bui-Doi translates as ‘dust of life’ and in the musical, the term refers to the children left behind when their American soldier fathers left the country after the US military was defeated by North Vietnam. The lyrics resounded poignantly on the eve of a week when so many children were due to expelled from the Jungle refugee camp in Calais: ‘Because we know / Deep in our hearts / That they are all / Our children too’.
ABERRATION – AN LGBT ARTS SPACE
Aberration is a banner for events about and for LGBTQI people (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Intersex) in Aberystwyth and district. Also welcomed under this banner are non-binary and genderqueer people plus supportive friends and open-minded straight people. Wherever you’re coming from on the sexuality and gender spectrums, though, a passion for arts and community events is an Aberration must!
Aberration started in 2014 in response to a communal desire for an arts night in Mid Wales that focused on LGBTQI themes. One of Aberration’s prime-movers, Ruth Fowler, works at Aberystwyth University and is a co-organiser of the staff LGBTQI network, Enfys Aber. West Wales residents Jane Hoy and Helen Sandler bring to the party their experience of organising arts events through their non-profit company SpringOut. From the outset, Aberystwyth Arts Centre have been very supportive of the idea, inviting the Aberration team to meet new director, Gareth Lloyd Roberts, and other managers to put plans in place.
Since then, the partnership between the Arts Centre, Enfys Aber and SpringOut has led to more than 10 Aberration events over three years, mainly run at the Arts Centre, while the university more widely has also been supportive. The biggest night of the Aberration year is the annual cabaret, Cabarration. Smaller and cosier events are put on in the Studio and feature acoustic music, theatre, talks and panel discussions. Artists from the Aberystwyth area who have featured in the past year include singer Kedma, writers Maj Ikle and Nic Herriot, pole performer and teacher Ali Cocks, musical duo László Xavia and Emily Farr, and the band Arms Like Legs.
Both university students and lecturers have given lively talks on topics such as gender identity, gay art history and lesbian literature. Aberration received an Arts Council Wales grant in 2014 and was shortlisted in the Aber First Awards this year.
NOTHING QUITE LIKE IT
The idea driving Aberration is that the arts are a reflection of our lives. By getting together to watch cabaret, theatre, music or film, or to have a discussion, LGBTQI people and their friends and allies can see their own lives writ large in a way they seldom do in the mainstream. Aberration is also about building bridges in the community between the gay and straight worlds, with many people attending events simply because they like to be informed and entertained, rather than because they are LGBTQI themse lves. Aberration brings quality arts events with an LGBTQI theme to Aberystwyth and people travel from all around to come to see them. Local artists appear on the bill alongside those who are well known on the national circuit.
There is nothing like Aberration in the area and the organisers have been told by visitors from Cardiff, London and Liverpool, there’s nothing quite like it in the cities either! Certainly at Cabarration, the mix of top performers with a very friendly and appreciative crowd created what one audience member described as ‘a unique magic’.
Helen Sandler told The Herald: “Tonight Jonathan Mayor joked about ‘lesbians coming down from the hills’, but the jest was accurate. People come from their villages, farms and isolated communes, from across Ceredigion, Powys and Gwynedd, arriving in new cars or battered campervans, hiking up the hill from the bus and train stations, or just wandering across campus. The word is out and Aberration is a fixture in many people’s diaries. One big aim of Aberration is to give a boost to LGBTQI people at home and abroad. That might mean giving a warm welcome to new audience members or sending money to Uganda.”
Ending her night of hosting on Saturday, Sandler read a poem about a happy ‘non-binary’ child – someone who does not want to choose either a male or a female identity. Sandler acknowledged that it can be difficult for a trans person to come along to an Aberration event in their preferred dress for the first time, or for someone suffering from anxiety to come along at all. But in the friendly atmosphere created, she and the rest of the Aberration team hope that people will enjoy spending time with friends and making new connections.