“a barkingly mad show, but it is smart and even touching at times”
What’s the festive period without a riotous new show by drag queen Ginger Johnson? This year, Ginger, accompanied by the show’s co-creator David Cumming and performers Rudy Jeevanjee, Mahatma Khandi and Azara, welcome us to Crappersea Dog Pound for an evening of muzzles off entertainment.
The premise is thus: the audience are all new dogs at the pound hoping to be adopted by a loving family for Christmas. Before their hopefully happy departing, the resident dogs – led by the immensely talented Ginger – have decided to tell us new recruits what possible fates could await us in the human world – from being a social media pup to suffering through degrading obedience training. What follows is a feast for the eyes and ears; a cabaret variety show filled with singing, dancing, comedy, spoken word and rap on the glitzy Pleasance stage.
Of course, as expected, the show is downright filthy. But there is more to the double entendre than might initially meet the eye. Dog Show is a thoroughly queer show and uses its campy premise to effectively explore how the queer community and its kinky subdivisions are viewed by wider society. Notions of embracing freedom and rejecting control and dominance come up again and again and culminate in a finale song that rings like a warrior cry to not obey the man and instead forge your own path. The writing is brilliantly witty, and the aforementioned themes are weaved beautifully throughout the show even at its most absurd moments.
All the performers are phenomenal. Ginger is, as expected, an excellent compere and Cumming’s is exceedingly funny in his various roles. Jeevanjee, Khandi and Azara all bring fantastic energy to the show and contribute excellent solo performances. All five cast members are incredibly polished with not a note, foot or word out of place.
The audience is treated to song after song from the performers with brief pauses for amusing talking head comedy. The show moves along at a great pace; blink and you will miss some hilarious joke or lyric. Stand out songs are certainly Azara’s rap about gender roles and Cumming’s Act Two opener about humping the foot stool. Special mention must also go to Ginger and Cumming’s song about Laika, the Soviet space dog who was the first animal to orbit the Earth. Closing Act Two, this song marked a significant tonal shift as the audience is asked to reflect on the canine’s tragic fate and lack of choice.
The set, designed by Ginger herself, is reminiscent of old Soho and club back alleys. Four slats of ‘brick’ wall create different formations on stage and there is no shortage of props such as a rideable toy jeep to add to the fun. The lighting (Rachel Sampley) contributes beautifully to the seedy atmosphere with flickering neon and flashing strobes. With the cast parading around in ripped clothes, floppy ears and sparkly tails, the visual spectacle of the show is completely engrossing.
Dog Show is a barkingly mad show, but it is smart and even touching at times. If you embrace the weirdness and absurdity of it all, you are in for a real treat.
“something for everyone from the crude to the political to the downright silly”
After five long months of lockdown, theatres have once again opened their doors! And what better way to celebrate theatre’s glorious return than with an evening of ‘camp laughs [and] filthy looks’ courtesy of the ‘Pleasance’s own drag sweetheart Ginger Johnson’ in her new show Ginger Johnson and Pals.
Ginger’s pals for the show’s debut were Cheryl Dole, Evelyn Carnate and Midgitte Bardot who offered an eclectic mix of spoken word, burlesque, and singing. Between the guest performances, Ginger sung (including about all the ways one can die), played Agony Aunt to the audience (offering advice on such topics as what to do if your roommate boils fish fingers), and told amusing anecdotes (such as her debut in the world of ‘wet and messy’ fetishism).
Cheryl Dole, however, was the stand-out performer of the night. Dole took to the stage twice and wowed both times. Performing original poems merged with pop culture audio clips about women’s rights, Dole found the perfect balance between comedy and social commentary. A particular highlight was her retelling of the Medea myth intertwined with snippets from Meredith Brooks 1997 hit song ‘Bitch’.
Evelyn Carnate performed two different burlesque sequences. The first was more ‘traditional’ with slow, sensual movements and the obligatory nipple tassels. The second was much more comic featuring large peacock-style fans that Carnate mimed pleasuring herself with. The latter was a fantastic routine and better suited to the show’s overall tone.
Midgitte Bardot was the final performer. Seemingly uninterested in the performance at hand and lacking much professionalism, Bardot came to life singing the Yellow River Boys’ completely bizarre song ‘Hot Piss’ that she joked her grandmother used to sing to her. Though Bardot initially seemed to disrupt the show’s jolly pace with her unprepared appearance, she was quick to prove such an accusation wrong.
Ginger, as expected, was an excellent compere and was in her element when engaging with the audience. Her musical performances were also particularly strong and had the whole crowd singing and laughing along. It is also worth mentioning Ginger’s three outfit changes, each costume more stunning than the last.
The Pleasence did a phenomenal job at transforming their larger theatre space into a Covid-secure zone. Gone is the tightly packed seating stand having been replaced by round tables and bar stools across three levels. This set-up screams cabaret and, at least to this reviewer, is preferable to the typical seating arrangement due to its better views and opportunity for audience participation, though, of course, greatly reduces capacity.
The stage was large and circular with a red curtain at the back from which the performers came in and out. To the right of the stage was a staircase that served as an alternative entrance point though was unfortunately not used to its full dramatic effect especially during Carnate’s segments. The lighting was very well-timed and successfully set the tone on stage from white strobes during dance breaks to dark passionate red in Dole’s lamentation of patriarchal oppression.
Ginger Johnson and Pals is a highly engaging and entertaining show sure to please any crowd. Fast paced and extremely varied, Johnson’s show offers something for everyone from the crude to the political to the downright silly.