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On Railton Road tells the powerful and moving story of a queer community in Brixton and is the first theatre production to be staged at the Museum of the Home from 31st October to 18th November. Written by Louis Rembges and the Brixton Faeries, this story is based on real people and their lived experiences of squatting in the 70s. This landmark production, directed by Ian Giles, uses rare archival interviews to bring the period to life. Louis has written a piece for QX about this revolutionary period of queer history. 

– by Louis Rembges –

After seeing Ian Townsend’s archived photos of the community of queer squatters of 1970s Brixton (unearthed by my creative partner and co-creator of the play, Ian Giles) when I began to lay out the scaffold for our play ‘On Railton Road’, I was immediately struck by how, to me, they didn’t look like archived photos at all. They looked like mine.

In Townsend’s article, he speaks of queer being used as an insult for our community in the 70s, explaining why he doesn’t use it in his writing to describe the men who lived in the squats alongside him, instead opting for ‘gay’ as that was how they described themselves proudly at the time.

Now, as their lives and stories are given the rightful spotlight they deserve, in my writing, I shall be using the word ‘queer’ as it is how I describe myself and the community that exists around me today. A reclamation of an umbrella term that includes all shades of people’s gender and sexuality: a strange link to the past I’m writing about, but a link that represents the difference 50 years of queer history can make to language, the physical similarities that remain, and the fact of how we are wonderfully, inexorably, wearing-lampshades-as-hattedly linked.

Louis Rembges writer of On Railton Road
Louis Rembges

Working for four years at drag-pub-wonder/barrel-of-live-wet-fish The Glory (I have cleaned up YOUR vomit), I was pitched headfirst into a huge queer family and swept into parties, protests and the queer politics of today. Like the squatters on Railton Road, I found my home in the houses queer people have built and protected. Mine just happened to be in the form of pubs with leaks into the ‘basement’, ‘theatres’ with leaks from the upstairs, warehouses, smoking areas, and strangers’ kitchens at daybreak.

It’s not just the stark similarities of the content of the archived photos to my own modern experience in London that surprised me: clothes, parties, genderfuckery; it’s the people in the photos themselves. In the archives of the squatters on Railton Road, I see places and events I go to now, my friends, myself.

On Railton Road cast 2023, credit to Roxy Lee Photograph

The cyclic element to the lives of queer people, how interwoven we are with each other through the decades, is inspiration enough to write an endless anthology. I am in awe of the buoyancy of our hedonism and, especially then, the simple defiance of our existence. We are infinitely resilient. Despite the violence littered both in queer history and queer now, political and physical, we are cockroaches in heels. Fuck you Thatcher, fuck you Sunak.

The importance of telling the story of Townsend and his community’s lives and activism in ‘On Railton Road’ today is not just to catalogue and preserve but to tell queer history that isn’t steeped in trauma, to show how much history we have beyond the story of the 80s. That it is expansive, explosive, joyful, revolutionary and that just a postcode in 1970s Brixton had enough queer brilliance to change the landscape of our lives today.

Tickets for On Railton Road :

On Railton Road runs from 31st October to 18th November, at the Museum of the Home, 136 Kingsland Road, London E2 8EA, United Kingdom.

The photos that Louis Rembges is referencing are taken by his friend, the photographer Roxy Lee. In her Instagram @sausageandcustard, she chronicles the London (and beyond) queer club scene like no other.

It was the 1970s, and Ian Townson writes about the Brixton gays that fought for liberation.

Louis Rembges is an alumni of the Royal Court’s Intro to Playwriting Group and the recipient of the BOLD 2023 Playwriting Prize. He performed his play ‘Chatham House Rules’ at the Edinburgh Fringe 2023 with The Pleasance, which is also part of the forthcoming Best Of Edinburgh season at The Pleasance in Islington.

QX interviews Louis Rembges, writer-performer in Chatham House Rules, Best Of Edinburgh Season at Pleasance Theatre.

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