Celebrate LGBT History Month with tickets to West End shows
February sees the annual marking of LGBT History Month in the UK. It's a time to observe lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, to reflect on gay rights, advance education, work to create more safe spaces, and to promote the welfare of LGBT+ people. LGBT History Month is usually observed in October in the US, Canada and Australia, but it's in February here - coinciding with the 2003 abolition of Section 28, a heinous law that prohibited the "promotion of homosexuality".
The founding organiser of our LGBT History Month is Schools Out UK, and it first took place in February 2005. The event has three rousing taglines: "Claiming our past. Celebrating our present. Creating our future." Well-known patrons and speakers include actors Ian McKellen and Cryil Nri, activists Peter Tatchell and Stuart Milk, rugby player Gareth Thomas, politician Angela Eagle, and writer Stella Duffy.
LGBT History Month links up with the National Curriculum too, offering free teaching resources to schools, and sets a theme each year. The 2023 theme is #BehindTheLens, celebrating queer people’s contribution to cinema from behind the lens – from directors and screenwriters to animators, costume designers, musicians, choreographers and more.
Of course, you can also celebrate the wonderful work of LBGT+ people on stage, whether performing or creating work, or even sharing their lived experiences – all while having a wonderful night out. Here are some of the great London shows that you can see now to celebrate LGBT History Month, and all year round.
The exuberant 2019 musical & Juliet is the prime example of taking a traditional tale – William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet – and giving it a progressive contemporary twist. Instead of ending her life with her lover Romeo, Juliet decides to embark on her own adventure - at the suggestion of Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway. So, in this new version, Juliet discovers that Romeo in fact had multiple lovers, men and women, and she goes on a road trip to Paris with her non-binary friend May.
The resulting production is a joyful reclamation of the story by female and queer characters, challenging set gender roles and arguing that everyone should be their authentic selves. It's the perfect LGBT History Month theatre outing - with the added bonus of a soundtrack packed with pop bangers from the likes of Katy Perry, Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, Ariana Grande and The Weeknd, and a witty book by David West Read, writer on the equally queer-celebratory TV show Schitt's Creek.
Book & Juliet tickets on London Theatre.
Although the Disney juggernaut, now a spectacular stage musical, doesn't overtly feature any queer characters, there is a long tradition of the LGBT+ community interpreting and identifying with the subtext of pieces of art. That's definitely the case with the empowering story of Elsa, who is so terrified of people discovering her secret that it hampers her relationship with sister Anna and actually causes harm - but who is liberated by finally embracing her true self instead of fearing it. The incredible anthem "Let It Go" has been embraced by many LGBT+ fans as a celebration of coming out.
The theatrical version develops some of those related themes in complex and thoughtful ways, giving us more insight into Elsa's headspace and her dynamic with Anna through new songs and stirring performances. It's also a magical family theatre trip which will thrill and inspire young Frozen fans, so there's something for everyone in this LGBT History Month London outing.
Book Frozen tickets on London Theatre.
Revisit the blistering TV debate that forever changed how we tell our political stories in James Graham’s gripping history play. Best of Enemies takes us back to the 1968 American presidential election, a time of deep polarisation and the beginnings of the culture wars. During the primaries, there was another battle on TV between two powerful commentators: William F Buckley Jr versus Gore Vidal. The right-wing Buckley represented traditional conservatism, while the liberal Vidal put forward progressive views, partly via his provocative novels.
Vidal was also openly bisexual, and, adding authenticity to that portrayal, is played in the West End production by the gay American actor Zachary Quinto. He’s best known to audiences here for playing Spock in the Star Trek movies, but is an experienced stage actor – like Gatiss, he starred in a revival of The Boys in the Band – and has spoken passionately about LBGT+ rights. Seeing him in this thrilling production would be the ideal LBGT History Month theatre trip.
In 1928, Virginia Woolf scandalised readers with the publication of her novel Orlando: A Biography. Her hero, a young, handsome nobleman, awakes aged 30 to discover that he now has the body of a woman. Over the centuries (Orlando also has a magically long life) the character moves between genders, and eventually marries another gender non-confirming person. In fact, Woolf wrote the story for her lover Vita Sackville-West.
That astonishingly modern tale – which posits Orlando as potentially transgender, gender fluid, non-binary, or simply presenting outside of society’s strict gender binary – has been given fresh life in a new theatrical production. Even better, it stars the amazing non-binary actor Emma Corrin (who played Princess Diana in The Crown), bringing their lived experience to this fascinating character. That combination of Corrin and Orlando makes this a must-see during LGBT History Month.
Willkomen to one of the all-time great musicals: Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret. Even better, this multi-Olivier Award-winning production completely immerses you in the world of the show, with the Playhouse Theatre transformed into the Kit Kat Club. Originally starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley, this phenomenal revival is welcoming new leads this month: John McCrea, who originated the title role in the heartfelt queer musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and Aimee Lou Wood, best known for similarly queer-celebratory TV series Sex Education.
It’s a great excuse to revisit Cabaret if you’ve already seen it – or to enter the Kit Kat Club for the first time, particularly during LGBT History Month. Part of the show’s great tragedy is seeing the sexual freedom of the pre-war era destroyed by the rise of fascism, and Rebecca Frecknall’s production emphasises that point with its inclusive, gender-fluid club performers living their best lives, plus the bisexual journey of Cliff Bradshaw. Join their world, just for a night: come to the cabaret.
Book Cabaret tickets on London Theatre.
Of course, we can’t possibly have a list of great queer theatre without including Rob Madge’s now iconic one-man show. Madge (who identifies as non-binary) went viral on social media during the 2020 lockdown after sharing clips from their childhood, when they dressed up like Disney characters and had wonderful support from their family – although it took a while for their dad to understand that Madge’s heart really belonged with the princesses.
Madge has turned that into a funny and moving show, looking back on those experiences and asking how we can best support our children in finding who they want to be – whether they’re creative, queer, or just don’t fit into society’s set roles – while also belting out original songs and making that childhood dream of giving us a Disney parade come true, in fabulous fashion. It’s the ultimate LGBT History Month theatre trip.
Photo credit: Frozen (Photo courtesy of production)
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