Ginger Johnson and Pals
Reviewed – 4th June 2021
“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 Gone is the tightly packed seating stand having been replaced by round tables and bar stools across three levels.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.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Ginger Johnson and Pals
Pleasance Theatre until 5th June
Five star shows reviewed this year:
Escape From Planet Trash
Reviewed – 21st November 2019
“combines drag, sci-fi and innuendo galore to create the perfect foil for the abundance of family-friendly shows on for the holidays”
It is the year 2050. Earth is no more and is instead known as Planet Trash, the dumping ground for the entire universe. East London drag queen Ginger Johnson and her 28-year-old son Sonny (David Cumming) are its last survivors and spend their days foraging through rubbish. That is until an impending solar flare threatens to obliterate the planet and a discarded weapon that the Intergalactic Government is desperate to get its hands on. Cue the arrival of the Captain of the Star Corp voyager (Mairi Houston) and the ambiguously gendered Private P. P. Parts (Mahatma Khandi).
Their quest, however, soon turns sour when an army of mutant turkeys decide to seek revenge on the human race for having eaten them at Christmases past. Now, it’s up to Ginger and Sonny to save the day and stop the eradication of mankind. Sink the Pink’s brand-new seasonal production Escape From Planet Trash combines drag, sci-fi and innuendo galore to create the perfect foil for the abundance of family-friendly shows on for the holidays.
Johnson and Cumming are the strongest in their roles, with the former having no trouble working the crowd. The rest of the cast sadly do not always seem sure of themselves or their lines. The plot that is set up in the play’s opening scenes is unfortunately rather quickly forgotten. Loose ends are rife in this production and the solar flare and ever-so-important weapon hardly get a look-in.
There are some moments of serious commentary. The play reflects on the climate crisis and capitalist greed and drag artists Maxi More and Lavinia Co-op join the cast as two dark tourists travelling the galaxy. Silliness however wins out in Escape From Planet Trash but without a solid narrative – which Ginger in fact jokes about the play needing – it is hard to be fully invested.
The set is multi-tiered with characters able to ascend and descend several sets of stairs. This makes for some dynamic visuals even when little else is happening on stage. To the left of the stage, the entrance to a sewer pipe and, above it, the interior of Star Corp’s spaceship. To the right, the tin shack house of Ginger and Sonny complete with rooftop terrace and light-up HOME sign. The centre of the stage sits on a rotating platform which allows for some great reveals such as Lavinia tap dancing as the Johnson’s home spins around. The set did pose a few hiccups including the shack’s door swinging open unexpectedly and revealing actors preparing for the next scene.
The lighting (Clancy Flynn) is solid throughout and used atmospherically. Costumes (Julia Smith) are a lot of fun with Ginger wearing a particularly ostentatious white plastic see through mesh bodysuit with a clear plastic overcoat.
The musical direction (Sarah Bodalbhai) is overall very strong. A rendition of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Monty Python’s Life of Brian (which the cast sing to a literal piece of shit played by Lavinia) that ends with a reference to the ‘dis-gus-tang’ video meme is a definite highlight. All the songs are a real blast though the cast do struggle to get the audience to sing along even at moments which beg for it. A finale song would also be good to round off the show in true pantomime fashion.
Escape From Planet Trash is a barrel of laughs and as silly as it is campy. Though the production lacks polish at times, you would be hard-pressed to not enjoy Sink the Pink’s newest endeavour.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Ali Wright
Escape From Planet Trash
Pleasance Theatre until 22nd December
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: