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Queer Exceptions


Under the conditions of neoliberalism, the desire to acknowledge difference may blur with a contemporary demand for the same. How might queer solo performance allow us to historicize the cultural and political exigency of exceptional subjects? An example: in recent weeks, I have been preoccupied with British writer and director Neil Bartlett and designer Robin Whitmore's A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep. The piece is a sequence of devised works staged between 1987 and 1990 dedicated to the memory of Simeon Solomon, a ‘short, red-haired, ugly and flagrant Jew’ and contemporary of Oscar Wilde born to a good family whose ‘fallen life’ was dedicated to the pleasures of alcohol and rough trade. Inspired by Solomon's paintings and his prose poem from which the work takes its title, the performance is drawn from fragments of text and (auto)biography: images and words from the late nineteenth century colliding with the experience of being a gay man in the late 1980s in the midst of the AIDS crisis. Originally presented as a solo work, later iterations were performed by Bartlett alongside three London queens: Bette Bourne, Regina Fong and Ivan.

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1 See Neil Bartlett and Robin Whitmore's original programme notes for the 1987 staging. Battersea Arts Centre Digital Archive, at, last accessed 1 May 2014.

2 The first version of the piece – subtitled ‘part one’ – was staged at the Battersea Arts Centre, London, in 1987; later iterations were performed in Copenhagen, Hamburg, Glasgow, Nottingham, Oxford, Edinburgh and Sheffield.

3 Bartlett, Neil, ‘A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep (Part Three)’, in Wilcox, Michael, ed., Gay Plays 4 (London: Methuen Drama, 1990), pp. 81112, here p. 83.

4 Agamben, Giorgio, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 21.

5 Ahmed, Sara, ‘Orientations: Toward a Queer Phenomenology’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 12, 4 (2006), pp. 543–74, here p. 562.

6 See, for example, Halberstam, Judith, The Queer Art of Failure (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2011); Berlant, Lauren, Cruel Optimism (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2011); McCallum, E. L. and Tuhkanen, Mikko, eds., Queer Times, Queer Becomings (New York: SUNY Press, 2011).

7 Causey, Matthew and Walsh, Fintan, Performance, Identity, and the Neo-liberal Subject (New York: Routledge, 2013), p. 2.

8 For a related critique of the complicity between neoliberal values and queer theory's anti-moralism and anti-statism, see McCluskey, Martha T., ‘How Queer Theory Makes Neoliberalism Sexy’, in Fineman, Martha Albertson, Jackson, Jack E. and Romero, Adam P., eds., Feminist and Queer Legal Theory: Intimate Encounters, Uncomfortable Conversations (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 115–34.

9 Román, David and Hughes, Holly, O Solo Homo: The New Queer Performance (New York: Grove Press, 1998), pp. 67.

10 Ibid., p. 5.

11 Muñoz, José Esteban, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), p. 1.

12 Ibid., p. 1.

13 See Butler, Judith, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (London and New York: Verso, 2009), pp. 37.

14 Ibid., p. 5.

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Theatre Research International
  • ISSN: 0307-8833
  • EISSN: 1474-0672
  • URL: /core/journals/theatre-research-international
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