1920’s New York: Businessman Rolly is married to Clair but secretly in love with Allen, and has some confessions to make before hosting an outrageous ball… This 1920’s scandal written by the infamous Mae West has been dragged out of the closet and given a thorough dusting down by the Arcola Queer Collective.
Although written with tongue firmly in cheek, this early depiction of homosexuality was cutting edge, shocking, and downright dangerous in its day – indeed the original 1927 production was forced to close because of its depictions of the ‘cursed and degenerate’… However, viewed through the lens of history – ninety years of societal change and revolution later – what we’re left with is an out-and-out farce. Director Peter Darney’s decision to tackle this material as broad comedy is a delicious one – and it’s a treatment that the absurd attitudes of the time absolutely deserve. We suspect that West would have rather enjoyed this further subversion of her work.
To be clear – The Arcola Queer Collective is a community theatre group made up of a mixture of professional and amateur actors, and as a result some performances stand out as more accomplished than others. But the enthusiasm and energy from all involved in this anarchic approach to the craft more than makes up for any perceived variance in talent, and the whole piece is bound together by a community sensibility that infects the audience and becomes impossible to resist.
The well-toned Damien Killeen gives a standout performance as Rolly Kingsbury – skilfully mixing superb humour with some darker character moments – and he effortlessly steals the drag ball scene with an extremely revealing party outfit… There’s great interaction between Stuart Honey as Judge Robert Kingsbury and Arkem Mark Walton as Dr Richmond as they discuss the theoretical nature of the homosexual – both dusty old men of learning believing themselves to be the rational and respectable viewpoint as they spout absurdist bilge – a lovely pair of well-judged and doctored interpretations. And Tasmine Airey is eminently watchable as Clair Richmond – squeezing much hilarity from the spurned wife’s unfortunate situation.
We also very much enjoyed Miraj Gadhavi as the angriest Inspector ever to grace the stage, Sue Frumin as an inscrutable Auntie Barbara, and Mikko Makela as the strikingly handsome Allen Grayson – the object of Rolly’s affections. There’s also some delightful teamwork from Diego Benzoni, Dior Clarke, Anthony Cranfield, and Sam Reynolds as The Dragettes – Rolly’s circle of friends who act as a sort of camp greek chorus – never more entertaining than when belting out the delightfully anachronistic absurdity Smell Yo Dick.
Enlivened with song and dance and outrageous slapstick, ‘The Drag’ is a unique take on an historical portrait that is as silly as it is important. Viewed with the spirit of community with which it has been lovingly put together, this is a joyful piece with much to savour.
GT gives The Drag at The Arcola Theatre — 4/5
The Drag runs at The Arcola Theatre until January 13. More information can be found here.