Tag Archives: Holly Revell

In the Beginning

★★★★

Katzpace

In the Beginning

In the Beginning

Katzpace

Reviewed – 10th February 2020

★★★★

 

“The foam padding around his hips and his flaming red wig are presented as just as authentic as the mud and green of the countryside”

 

‘Performing the words of Alex Marlow, please welcome to the stage… Alex Marlow’. Written on Subterranean Homesick Blues style placards, the opening of In The Beginning aptly opens a show that perfectly embodies the new wave of self aware, contextualised drag performance.

London is currently home to an exciting and innovative culture of burlesque that challenges and pushes the limit of what is traditionally seen as drag. From the rise of Drag Kings in collectives like The Pecs to The London Short Film Festival opening with a night of alternative drag, showcasing cabaret that centres around neurodivergence and race, this is an exciting place to be. With this show, writer and performer Alex Marlow and director Deirdre McLaughlin offer a highly personal and sensitive contribution to this, ultimately pulling at the corners of cabaret itself and seeing where its limits are.

The show jumps around between genres, from mainstays of drag like the lip synch, the clanging double entendre and the intense eye contact with the audience, to more serious formats such as poetry, personal memoir and long moments of introspective silence. What complicates this is that they are not sealed off from each other but intertwined and overlapping. There are intense poetic monologues delivered in full drag and lip synched numbers in jogging bottoms. All the while, Marlow is narrating small vingettes of his life now and his life growing up queer in rural Lancashire, tackling huge topics with personal specificity and grace. This erratic combining does not make for a confusing piece, however, but for one that is touching and funny, requiring the audience to second guess their assumptions about gender, performance and power at every new combination.

The success of this relies heavily on Marlow as the single performer. Luckily, he is an excellent one. His physical performance is by far his strong point as he throws his body round an almost empty stage, flipping from catwalk to skulking to modern dance. He also has incredible comic timing, as is showcased in a short, strangely emotional skit about anal sex and guava which he performs whilst happily snacking on the fruit which he has pulled out of his bra.

Although sparsely populated, the staging and props of this piece create one of its strongest features. Marlow flips between wearing a wig and not, and whilst he isn’t, it sits on an elevated wig stand, watching over the proceedings like a judge. Drag is about layers, traditionally the adding of them. Make-up, padding and prosthetics take the natural and make them unnatural. Marlow complicates this by constantly playing with these layers and shifting around in them. Clothes are taken on and off in quick succession, a full face of makeup disintegrates but shiny earrings remain. There are also long poetry sequences about nature and the pastoral, surely the most ‘real’ thing which most drag avoids dealing with for precisely that reason. Marlow runs into it, however, relishing in the smell of crushed nettles and smearing mud over his impeccably done face.

The smartest move he makes is that none of these layers are prioritised. The foam padding around his hips and his flaming red wig are presented as just as authentic as the mud and green of the countryside. Drag can be gritty reality as much as it can be escape from it. Although perhaps some of the writing could be neater and the transitions between sketches smoother, this is a dazzling piece of cabaret that shows that there is no truth under drag but rather, like turtles, its drag all the way down.

 

Reviewed by Cleo Henry

Photography by Holly Revell

 


In the Beginning

Katzpace until 12th February

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Dead Reckoning | ★★½ | May 2019
Everything Today Is The Same | ★★★ | May 2019
Fight. Flight. Freeze. Fuck. | ★★★ | May 2019
You’re Dead Mate | ★★★★ | June 2019
Romeo & Juliet | ★★★★ | July 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Fitter

Fitter

★★★★★

Soho Theatre

Fitter

Fitter

Soho Theatre

Reviewed – 9th December 2019

★★★★★

 

“The comedy is frequent, and welcome. Because there are things here that are painful to listen to”

 

It is Monday evening. I am going to see Fitter at Soho Theatre, but I am killing time in a bookshop. I pick up a book about Dorothy Parker and flip through the pages. The first one I stop to read contains the poem “Symptom Recital”. And, all the way from 1936, Dorothy Parker strikes a chord when she says:

I shudder at the thought of men.’


Mary Higgins and Ell Potter also shudder at the thought of men. Their previous show, Hotter – a celebration/exploration/reclamation of bodies – was based on interviews with just about everyone except cis men. Obviously. Why would they want to speak to men? Beside, men don’t need a show.

Or maybe they do.

‘Maybe everyone needs a show.’

Part verbatim theatre, part performance art and part confession, Fitter is based on interviews with cis, trans, and masculine presenting men of all ages. Higgins and Potter ask them about their lives (emotional and physical), and use their answers to create a show that challenges popular misconceptions.

The audience’s expectations are dismantled at the same time as the performers’. Higgins and Potter know what the answer to their first question – ‘Would you rather be hard or soft?’ – will be. Until it ends up being the opposite. Emotional men don’t exist. Until they’re spotted crying at X Factor. It’s a well-known fact that men just want sex. Until they shock us by celebrating the emotional connection between themselves and their sexual partner.

Higgins and Potter lip-sync loving words between partners, recreate fights between pre-teen boys and play everyone from eight year olds to middle aged football fans. They also do a dance routine about douching. Which is one of the many gloriously silly moments that make this show so fun, in spite of its seriousness. Keeping the stage clear of set (with the exception of a small but significant green box), they fill it instead with energetic musical interludes that both add to the narrative and provide comic relief.

The comedy is frequent, and welcome. Because there are things here that are painful to listen to. Not just because they are beautifully written, not just because they are sensitively performed – but because they are true. Yes, some men are trash. Some are beyond trash, straying into “irredeemable” territory. But others are sensitive and thoughtful and kind. And they deserve to be uplifted. Fitter does not shy away from interrogating either. Instead, it celebrates the vulnerability of human life, the joys and fears of the individual, and the experience of coming together to watch two women redefine the male stereotype (and draw beards on each other).

On the bus home, I re-read “Symptom Recital”. It turns out that the relatable line is actually a rhyming couplet, paired with:

‘I’m due to fall in love again.’

I don’t think Fitter will make you fall in love with men. But it might help you understand them. And that, in and of itself, is a very valuable thing.

 

Reviewed by Harriet Corke

Photography by Holly Revell

 

Fitter

Soho Theatre

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Mouthpiece | ★★★ | April 2019
Tumulus | ★★★★ | April 2019
William Andrews: Willy | ★★★★★ | April 2019
Does My Bomb Look Big In This? | ★★★★ | May 2019
Hotter | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Citysong | ★★★★ | June 2019
The View Upstairs | ★★★ | July 2019
It All | ★★★ | August 2019
The Starship Osiris | ★★★★★ | August 2019
What Girls Are Made Of | ★★★★ | September 2019

 

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