“By the end, the show is joyous and silly. The set a backdrop of vibrant, glittery and soft fabrics imitates this playful atmosphere”
Sex is getting more complicated. Out of the confusion and the strangeness, Pecs have created a non-binary cabaret performed by seven very different and very brilliant drag kings. The show interrogates masculinity, exploring not only vulnerability but what it is to inhabit the kinds of strength that masculinity offers. The result is an evening of songs, dance, comedy and dramatic pieces that create a picture of male sexuality as a changing and nuanced spectrum.
Like many drag shows, Sex Sex Men Men seems to take parody as a starting point. The charismatic Cesar Jentley (Kit Griffiths) opens the show dressed in no less than a top hat and tail coat, simultaneously echoing both Ascot and cabaret. But with all good parody, there is an element of sincerity and Temi Wilkey’s Drag King Cole a lip-syncing dance that is heart-felt as well as hilarious. Victor Victorious’ (Victoria Aubrey) solo dance and strip is also nothing short of incredible.
From there, the show gets more serious and the comedy is always rooted in awareness that discussing gender also means discussing persecution, prejudice and abuse. In fact, the show does delve into the darkness of sexual abuse but there are plenty of warnings and opportunities for the audience members to leave. There are also some very explicit scenes and the audience, again, is forewarned. The show does not rely on shock value but on a desire to create an offering of performances that are about sex in all its roughness, gentleness, pleasure and pain.
What also stands out is that the show is interspersed with testimonies written by men on online forums. The stories range from confessions, confusing gay encounters to asking for advice about toxic masculine friendships. In these moments, it becomes clear that Pecs are opening the floor to more varied and frank discussions about relationships and gender. But there is a sadness in the disconnectedness of this as the stories have been put out into the void of the internet and are therefore both intensely personal and completely anonymous.
By the end, the show is joyous and silly. The set (Jasmine Swan), a backdrop of vibrant, glittery and soft fabrics imitates this playful atmosphere. The show is bold. There are some great ensemble dance numbers, there is nudity, food play, and a melancholic undressing scene to the music of Anthony and the Johnsons (which made this reviewer cry). Pecs have put gender on stage to remind us that it is a performance; a piece which we should all take seriously and have some serious fun with.
“To be daring in Soho is certainly not an easy feat, but Pecs manages to bring something new and different to an inundated fringe market”
I was expecting Pecs to be just like any other cabaret show; dance routines, stand-up comedy, lip syncing and live music; but the drag king aesthetic and the political undertones permeating the piece demonstrate a thoughtful and frankly unmissable night of promotion and activism. Pecs isn’t simply a happy jaunt into eighties nostalgia, it makes witty and relevant links to eighties politics and events, encouraging the audience to foster their own inner punk rock spirit and make a difference outside of the boundaries of the Soho theatre.
Pecs features nine drag kings who, throughout the evening, perform a number of acts ranging from live music to stand up comedy. The calibre of performance is excellence, truly drawing on the showmanship demonstrated by some of our much loved pop-icons, we meet with fantastic impressions of Bowie, Prince and George Michael. The chorus lip-sync numbers are flawlessly choreographed with the necessary cheesy dance moves, bringing back a time of fun and shameless narcissism that is instantly recognisable. The live music performances are phenomenally performed, with particular mention to the opening number, a remix of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody; my only issue to raise is a couple of audio faults that occasionally undermined the fantastic vocals of the cast.
With only moveable set and props, narrative is provided by the show’s compere, Cesar Jently (Kit Griffiths). Pulling apart ideals of white masculinity, Griffiths gives a fantastic and empathic performance, reading and responding to the audience as well as any MC should and seamlessly tying the acts together with a through line of comparisons between eighties sociopolitical events and those of the modern day; the Brixton riots, the AIDS Crisis and Margaret Thatcher are all invoked.
For me, the most striking moment of the piece was the ‘Black Power’ act by Drag King Cole (Temi Wilkey). Leading us through a montage of protest, government speeches, rap lyrics and police audio footage, Wilkey brought modern day racial politics and prejudices to the forefront of the piece with relentless courage, leaving much of the white middle-class audience of the Soho theatre speechless. The boldness with which this performance takes place is truly stunning, withdrawing from the previous tongue-in-cheek comedy around masculinity and prejudice, the audience are thrown into the realities of our current political climate and the consequences that follow.
To be daring in Soho is certainly not an easy feat, but Pecs manages to bring something new and different to an inundated fringe market. Under the guise of light humour and cheesy pop, Pecs is a piece that both forces its audience to confront the issues that we hide from and empowers us all to put up a fight and make a change.