Ecce Homo! was performed as part of Liverpool’s Homotopia Festival at the Unity Theatre, a small performance space on Hope Place. Commonly used by LIPA for their performances, its mission is to encourage creativity, innovation and diversity through performance.
Opening as the Merseyside Left Theatre in the 1930s, the theatre gained its current name in 1944 as part of the Unity Theatre movement, and moved to a former synagogue on Hope Place in the 1980s. This history provided a fitting backdrop for Ecce Homo!, a play described in the Homotopia handbook as ‘an epic, intimate cabaret’. Nick Philips (as Naughty Nickers) provided the audience with a moving, yet at times hilarious, performance – the likes of which I would recommend anyone to go and see.
Photo Credit: homotopia.net
The theatre offered a warm and friendly escape from the awful weather outside, but I gave up waiting in the overcrowded bar area and instead came downstairs and flicked through leaflets for LGBT+ charities. It was clear that this is a festival with a purpose. Advocates from the charity for young people with gender dysphoria, Mermaids, were placed around the building, talking to audience members, using the opportunity to fight their cause. I watched the soon to be audience mill around. Ecce Homo! certainly drew an eclectic crowd: groups of grey haired ladies, students, young women in skyscraper heels… It seemed like the play had an almost universal attraction. When I finally took my seat in the front row, it was next to a bearded gentleman with fabulous cuban-heeled, silver snake skin boots who insisted on repeatedly offering me liquorice all-sorts.
Encapsulating themes such as love, friendship and coming of age, Ecce Homo! recounted the life of Naughty Nickers through song and storytelling. It was a real life story that was ultimately incredibly moving, told with humour and grace. Although it was only 85 minutes long, the cabaret managed to paint an incredible and exciting picture of 1980s San Francisco. Naughty Nickers weaved together a picture of his life using songs that clearly other members of the audience were familiar with – where I could only clap and cheer, audience members behind me sang most songs word for word, which Naughty Nickers picked up on, and loved. It was an interactive show with a great sense of fun.
We were introduced to his friends, his family and his lovers, and also, tragically, we said goodbye to them as the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s hit. It was an increasingly raw performance, and as we learned how the disease cruelly stripped Naughty Nickers of his friends, tears formed in his eyes. Whilst talking about the AIDS epidemic, Naughty Nickers described how he didn’t know how to deal with his survivor’s guilt – he had expected, every day for 35 years, that he too might die at any moment.
The audience was in the palm of Naughty Nickers’ hands throughout the whole performance. We laughed and cried with him, and at the end of the show I left the theatre feeling like not only had I witnessed something extremely special, but I had witnessed something personal. It was an insight into a man’s life that had its fair share of heartbreak, but also its fair share of love. It seemed to me that Homotopia Festival provides a much needed platform for LGBT+ people to show their self-love, and in doing so, raise awareness of issues surrounding homophobia and transphobia.
Homotopia Festival runs until the 1st December, and includes city-wide events. See www.homotopia.net for more details.