Love Song to Lavender Menace is a two-man show about Lavender Menace, the radical feminist and LGBTQ bookshop that made a lasting impression on Edinburgh’s west end in the 1980s. We open with Lewis (Pierce Reid) and Glen (Matthew McVarish) in 1986, packing up the final few books and lamenting the close of Lavender Menace, telling stories about its existence, its founding, its patrons, and the city and cultural climate in which they found themselves. To say something completely obvious, Edinburgh has changed a lot in thirty years, politically as much as in any other way: for some, this is a trip down memory lane. For the rest of us, it’s a celebration, a reminder of how far the world – and Scotland – has moved in the meantime.
As well as being a love song to the bookshop, Lavender Menace is a fond walk through LGBT literature, from Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit to Ruby Fruit Jungle to Giovanni’s Room – the books, music, and other cultural touchstones that make an individual, as well as a community. It’s warm, and charming, without descending too far into rose-tinted nostalgia. The fear that good things won’t last, of being “dandelions in the pavement cracks of history”, is very real. (And may I say that writer James Ley has a lovely turn of phrase. Very apt for a play full of books.)
Actors McVarish and Reid have a touching and believable chemistry, as well as great enthusiasm. McVarish in particular switches between a host of walk-on characters with apparent ease, and Reid is emotionally open and very easy to empathise with. The addition of special guest – writer Daniel Gray – is a nice touch. I shan’t spoil the context for you, but a man appearing onstage with a script ought to be jarring and out of place. It wasn’t; if anything, the cameo felt a bit underused, a couple of minutes too short to draw the parallels and pack the emotional punch it might have done.
That said, the strength of Lavender Menace is in its emotional impact – its ability to build a great deal of feelings and connections with history out of a simple set and a few actors. That’s the strength of books, too, done right. It seems fitting.
Love Song to Lavender Menace is a piece of local history, LGBTQ history, and of great storytelling. It is also funny and kind; a love song not just to a bookshop, but to all the books in it, the people who went to it, and the sea change in Edinburgh’s culture that it was part of.
Photos courtesy of Aly Wight.
Love Song to Lavender Menace runs until 21st October at the Lyceum, Edinburgh.