“Sophie Ablett’s script and performance is thoughtful and charming”
If I’m being entirely honest, I didn’t really have high hopes for this show. A ‘one-woman spoken word and large-scale live-knitting’ sounded almost like a satire, and I was just grateful it would only last an hour.
But Sophie Ablett’s script and performance is thoughtful and charming and entirely surprising. Ablett was taught to knit by her mother, who was taught by her mother, and so on. It’s a way of showing love and care, and of keeping something of the family’s history alive. As Ablett stitches the various threads of her family into one garment, she talks us through journeys across Poland, France, Spain, Portugal, Belarus, finally landing in Liverpool. But there’s one face, in an old family photo, which has remained unknown to Sophie. So, she decides to pick up this thread and try to mend the hole left by this unidentified woman.
There are so many Holocaust narratives across so many mediums, sometimes it seems like shock value is necessary in order to get the message across. But Ablett delivers a powerful message, not via shocking details but in the lack thereof; in the silences created by a withholding of official information.
A simple tree made of yarn sits on a trunk of tangled rope in the background, and various coloured balls of yarn hang from the ceiling, ready to be unravelled and woven into an ever-growing shawl. Such a simple design (Beth Colley) could have been catastrophic, but Ablett is a natural storyteller, and as she sways from side to side on the balls of her feet in order to knit this giant family tapestry, she fills the stage with her quiet good nature.
There’s nothing fancy about this production. Ablett, as directed by Mamoru Takano, is barefoot, in black leggings and a jumper. And though the spoken-word script gives an undulating rhythm to the story, Ablett’s delivery is conversational and understated. Nonetheless, it’s a compelling story, made all the more so by its unusual yet endearing presentation.
“even the most prudish will find themselves revelling in the show’s risqué holiday showcase”
Pecsmas is the Pecs Drag Kings’ new festive show following the incredible success of their theatrical cabaret SEX SEX MEN MEN earlier this year. Directed by Celine Lowenthal and produced by Ellen Spence and Daisy Hale, Pecsmas is a queer Christmas show like no other. Four of the group’s Kings take to the stage along with a different special guest performer each night to deliver a tantalisingly sexy show that challenges toxic masculinity while maintaining comedy at its core.
John Travulva (Jodie Mitchell), Thrustin Limbersnake (Lauren Steele), Scott Free (Rosie Potts) and Loose Willis (Katy Bulmer) are the stars of this fast-paced musical extravaganza. On 11 December, Afro-Latinx, non-binary drag king CHIYO also joined the Kings and performed an explosively raunchy striptease in which he started off wearing a suit adorned with a glittery ‘F**K BORIS’ and strutting around a briefcase that reads ‘Tory Tosser’.
The show opens with the Kings lip-syncing to East 17’s Stay Another Day before Travulva establishes himself as host and welcomes the audience. Adopting the name of Santa for the festivities, Travulva wears a red and white Santa robe and fake beard and does an excellent job engaging the crowd.
There are plenty of classic Christmas tunes. Free, wearing an Elvis wig and the King’s signature white suit, sings Blue Christmas and Limbersnake and Travulva close the show with a rendition of All I Want For Christmas Is You while dressed as polar bears (the pun on the gay slang term ‘bear’ very much intended). There is a rousing sing-a-long of a parody of Oh I Wish I Could Be Christmas Every Day – in this case, Oh I Wish That Every Christmas Could Be Gay – which is a great way to involve the audience.
Another iconic Christmas reference is a performance of the Plastics’ dance to Jingle Bell Rock from the movie Mean Girls. There is strong choreography (Lauren Steele) throughout the show and the cast do well to keep up with some pretty intense steps.
The show gets markedly more explicit in the second half. Limbersnake has perhaps the raciest dance of the night as he proclaims that he ‘loves being chunky’ before stripping down from his chef’s attire into a mankini while spraying whipped cream over his body. Willis also has a seductive number where he rolls around in a pile of trash dressed in an all green suit, wig and even dyed underarm hair to resemble the Grinch.
There are strong political themes that run throughout in part due to the upcoming election. From CHIYO’s performance to overt appeals to vote Labour, the Kings do not shy away from making their anger at the current establishment known. There is also a vague plot of Willis trying to discover why he is so unhappy in himself by visiting toxic masculinity past, present and future, and the Kings make sure to note that Christmas can be a difficult or sad time for many LGBT+ people as so much of the holiday revolves around seeing family.
The stage is fabulous though simple. Silver foil fringe curtains act as a backdrop and run along each side of the stage and four Christmas trees surrounded by presents decorate. The lighting (James Dawson) changes according to the mood and sultry reds and pinks are used for sexy numbers. There are few props (which Travulva jokes about) but this in no way hinders the performance.
Pecsmas is a thoroughly unique Christmas spectacular. The King’s confidence and presence on stage can only be admired and even the most prudish will find themselves revelling in the show’s risqué holiday showcase.