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Embrace queer joy at this wonderful Salford theatre inside a pub

The Kings Arms is getting a fantastic reputation for putting on superb theatre
The Rug of Identity

The Kings Arms has a faithful audience who love that this theatre in a pub puts them right into the centre of things.

And the affordable ticket prices mean that you get plenty of bang for your buck.

Theatre at The Kings Arms, Salford

The Rug of Identity
The Rug of Identity cast

Next week Jill Fleming’s farce The Rug of Identity opens, and even though this funny and fast-paced piece has been compared with the work of Joe Orton, it has been buried and almost forgotten – until director Calima Lunt Gomez rediscovered it and decided to get it back on stage.

This unique comedy celebrates the coming together of different generations of lesbians and queer women, whilst promising to deliver a hefty dose of queer joy to modern audiences.

Calima Lunt Gomez and Leah Marks

We caught up with Calima and one of the performers, Leah Marks, to find out more.

Can you tell us what attracted you to The Rug of Identity?

Calima: I was first attracted to this piece because I think it provides some much-needed queer joy.

Compared to the 1980s, queer people are more mainstream than we ever have been but many of the stories about us are still about oppression.

This piece feels so refreshing because while being camp, silly, fast-paced and farcical the characters still have space to be flawed and even unlikeable. 

Leah: I knew the moment the casting call came out that this was something special.

The text itself was like nothing I’d read before – it’s funny, chaotic and the manic exploration of sexuality and gender identity still feels groundbreaking, even after nearly 40 years!

The directing and production team have such a clear vision of how to present it to a modern audience, too, and it feels like I’m part of history; like we’re acknowledging the work of the queer artists whose shoulders we’re standing on.

Also, it was stupidly funny enough at the first read-through, and I’ve come out of rehearsals since then in physical pain because I’ve been laughing so much! It’s a good ‘un, is what I’m saying.

Why do you think it has sat ‘lost in time’ for so long?

Calima: I think there’s a huge gap in the historical theatrical archive for queer theatre, which this play has fallen through.

I think especially lesbian history has often been erased – or at least ignored – and queer women have been considered a less important part of the gay rights movement.

I think this play might even end up being received better now than it was at the time because back then people were more interested in political theatre, whereas now people are looking for stories about queer people that aren’t political – and less weighed with a history of suffering.

The Kings Arms is a unique space as the audience is placed within the action. How does that suit this production?

Calima: I think something that I love about The Kings Arms is that it isn’t an intimidating venue for audiences.

I’m really big on making theatre that feels accessible, and theatre always feels much more accessible when it’s done in venues that people feel comfortable in.

The pub nature of the Kings Arms really lends itself to this.

Also, the play itself is a bit of a night out, which is why I’m so glad that we are doing it in a pub.

I’m hoping that people will stay afterwards for a drink and that the play will act as a conduit, bringing together people from different walks of life.

What do you both love about Manchester?

Leah: I’ve lived here all my life apart from a wayward decade or so spent living down south. It was fine and everything, but I’m very relieved to be back. As an actor, I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else.

There is such a huge, passionate, active theatre scene here that goes way beyond those lovely big theatres like the Royal Exchange and the Bolton Octagon.

Smaller venues like the Kings Arms, 53two and Hope Mill (among others) plus vast collections of sparky, intelligent, creative local theatre companies means there are endless opportunities to collaborate with dynamic, exciting people who are making extraordinary work even against all the odds. 

Calima: For me, I live south of Manchester in a place with a small community, small town vibe, but I love that I can easily pop into the city and be around so much culture.

There’s always lots going on in a big city, but while that makes London sometimes feel overwhelming, it never does here – maybe because people feel kinder and less competitive. 

What would you change about the city?

Leah: I’d magic the Oldham Coliseum building back into use.

I appreciate that work is still being done to make sure Oldham continues to have a thriving arts scene, but the loss of the theatre is a scar that feels like it may never heal.

Also the pollution here is a bit iffy. 

Calima: I’d open The Studio back up in the Royal Exchange. It was an incredible space for new writing in the city.

Leah: Oh yes That’s a good one. I think that too.

What was the last great thing you saw on stage?

Leah: I went to “An Evening with David Threlfall, Lesley Nicol and Sue Johnston” at the MADS theatre in Macclesfield the other week. It was organised by the Northern Rep Theatre Company, who are working to bring back the repertory theatre style of working to the north.

It was fantastically inspiring to hear about how being from the north west has been a driving force for three such successful actors – and heartwarming to see how invested they still are in the success of northern projects.

Calima: I saw Complicate’s Drive your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead at The Lowry last year and despite having lost my glasses and it being very blurry it was still one of the best things I have ever seen (or, maybe more accurately,  heard!) 

Why should audiences come and see The Rug of Identity?

Leah: Because it’s an hour and a half of fun for hardly any money. The writing is excellent, the actors are hilarious, and unless you saw the original production in 1986 you won’t have seen anything like it before.

Calima: There’s drag, there’s murder, there’s an incredibly sexy cast! What more could you want? I like to think that someone will meet the love of their life in the audience of the Rug, or reconcile with an enemy. I think this play is a springboard for a million connections… I just feel it. And everyone deserves to feel queer joy. Don’t miss it.

The Rug of Identity is at the Kings Arms from 8-12th April. You can book tickets by clicking here

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