Losing your religion is one thing, but losing your friends and family at the same time is quite another. Brook Tate’s truly beautiful, and very personal Birthmarked tells the story of someone who had no choice but to create a new life for themselves.
Tate, and his whole family were Jehovah’s Witnesses, thanks to his grandmother’s conversion to the religion in the 1950’s. When Tate confessed to being gay, the punishment was to be disfellowshipped. More than just being expelled from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it also meant completely cutting ties with parents, siblings and friends.
In a heady blend of gig theatre and storytelling, Brook Tate allows us a glimpse of the turmoil that was to come. Drowning in the shame of what’s happened, Tate takes us underwater to meet Gail the Whale (Eva Redman), descendant of Moby Dick, and drummer in Tate’s band.
The device allows Tate to tell the story to us via Gail, but also links this story to the bible stories, and the faith, that Tait grew up with. “This isn’t a musical” Tate assures Gail, but the stories are told through songs which Tate wrote as the events took place. The music comes in a nice mix of styles, often exuding a Celtic vibe. Each of them is a heartfelt exploration of these extraordinary circumstances, and all played beautifully by Tom Bonson, Samuel Fox, Eddie Benfield, and Sam Fox, (yes, a Sam and a Samuel Fox).
But, Birthmarked also comes with an overwhelming sense of hope, and the joy that comes with overcoming adversity. Tate is a charismatic performer who effortlessly captivates the audience with an easy going nature that makes each performance feel like this is the first time the story is being told.
It revels in Queer culture, with Tate and the band literally transforming on stage, a very visual representation of the journey that has been taken. The audience are brought along on this journey too, invited to feel a part of the show and express themselves.
Tate’s story is a difficult one to comprehend, certainly for anyone who hasn’t been part of this religion. On one hand, the show feels like it’s sticking two fingers up to the religion that shunned Tate, but on the other it’s done in such a way that only the facts of the matter are presented, Tate never passes judgement on the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Birthmarked deals with the cruel loss of family, but finds hope in the fact that you can build a new one – one built from open mic night’s and like-minded individuals who accept you for who you are, this is a touching story told with real heart.