“DuBois is an exceptionally funny performer and certainly knows how to put on a show that will leave anyone in stitches”
Who wouldn’t want to attend their own funeral? With the opportunity to listen in to heartfelt eulogies from your nearest and dearest, you can’t go wrong. Certainly, that is how Myra DuBois, award-winning drag persona of Gareth Joyner and 2020 Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist, sees it, using the theatrical plot device of her own death to stage a show in celebration of, you guessed it, herself. The new genre of theatre which she entitles ‘snuff cabaret’ takes us through the dearly departed’s highs and lows from her majestic birth (a star is born) to her questionable entanglement with her ex-wellness guru.
DuBois’ wit is unparalleled, especially when interacting with the audience. A particularly hilarious moment came when DuBois asked someone whether they had seen her perform before to which they said they had at a pub in Chiswick only a few weeks prior. Myra’s indignation at being reminded of such ‘lowly work’ whilst upon a West End stage was simply brilliant and became a recurring joke throughout the show. The queen’s comedy never lets up and barely a minute goes by without some sort of punchline or biting insult being hurled at those sat in the first few rows of the stalls. An extra bonus were those jokes directed at the audience at home as the show was being streamed online for those antsy about returning to live venues.
DuBois delivers three punchy musical numbers, the first to open her set emphasising just how ‘D E A Dead’ she really is. She goes on to sing about how selfish it would be for her to be an organ donor (as only one person rather than the masses would benefit from her sacrifice) in a jaunty ‘Always Look on the Brightside of Life’ style tune. The show closes with a rousing rendition of Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson’s I Know Him So Well with Myra and the audience assuming these roles respectively.
Before Myra took to the stage however, Frank Lavender, a self-entitled sex symbol from south Yorkshire, warmed up the audience with an amusing yet near painful repetition of a series of ‘dad jokes’ which frequently elicited audible groans arose from the audience. Though his set was enjoyable, especially the sections featuring his second wife (and DuBois’ plainer twin) Rose, this was a questionable way to open the show as Lavender’s comedic stylings were unlikely to energise the audience. Followed as well by a lengthy thirty-minute break before Myra’s set, the first hour of the show lacked momentum though was quickly forgotten once DuBois stepped on stage.
Rose returned to the stage throughout the performance to support DuBois. Her most notable contribution was reading a poorly rhymed poem to honour her ‘deceased’ sister. Rose’s presence offered some variety and allowed for further brilliance from DuBois as she berated her less glamorous sibling.
The set is simple but highly effective. Four white columns topped with flowers frame the stage with an urn and large image of the departed at the centre. DuBois lamented how she wanted the stage to look like Buckingham Palace in 1997 but it in fact looked more like a school gate after a car crash with one bunch of gas station flowers discarded on the floor (just once example of the queen’s outrageous humour). The lighting was variable and playful, moving effortlessly between dramatic spotlights to colourful fanfare. DuBois looked phenomenal as well, her vintage hair and make up dazzling in the West End lights.
It is no surprise that Myra has such a dedicated legion of fans (which she brilliantly calls AdMyras). DuBois is an exceptionally funny performer and certainly knows how to put on a show that will leave anyone in stitches.
“The chemistry between Douglas and Tovey is cosmic, even celestial, and there is a frisson that is totally fresh and natural”
‘In the quantum multiverse’, explains Manuel in “Constellations”, ‘every choice, every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes. We’ve all had these late-night conversations at some point or other, that usually descend into a chasm of confusion and a mind-boggling realisation about how little we know about the universe. Nick Payne’s play about the randomness of time and space condenses the subject more succinctly when it takes us on Manuel and Roland’s journey through a variety of alternative and possible pasts, presents and futures. But cosmology aside, the focus is on the microcosmic ‘humanness’ of the couple. The heartaches and happiness brought about by the various ‘what ifs’ that flesh is heir to.
After over a year of uncertainty, could-have-beens and might-have-beens; it feels like the perfect time for a revival of Payne’s extraordinary tale of infinite possibilities. First produced at the Royal Court it has since enjoyed West End runs, national tours and played Broadway. Now back in the West End, with original director Michael Longhurst at the helm, it can be seen from a fresh angle. The production features a revolving cast, and the choice of actors opens up new meanings and new dynamics to Payne’s writing. The action is no longer the preserve of a white, middle aged heterosexual couple. In this version in question, Manuel (originally Marianne) is played by Omari Douglas opposite Russell Tovey’s Roland. It is not just a boy-meets-girl story anymore. And the current concept works brilliantly. The chemistry between Douglas and Tovey is cosmic, even celestial, and there is a frisson that is totally fresh and natural. Having not seen the other scenarios I am not offering a comparison, but I suspect any choice (in our quantum universe every choice is possible) as to which duo to see will be the right one.
Roland is a beekeeper and Manuel a cosmologist who waxes lyrical about string theory and the belief that there are multiple universes that pull people’s lives in various directions. This is reflected in the play’s structure as the scenes (often very brief) are repeated with different attitudes, intonations, and outcomes. The couple meet at a barbecue and become romantically involved, they move in with each other, break up, meet up again and eventually marry. Or not. The differences played out in each variation are often quite miniscule, but the effects are momentous. All of life and death is there, with multiple stages of laughter and grief. On paper it does have the potential to become a drama exercise, but the actors’ outstanding performance prevents this.
Tom Scutt’s design suspends dozens of helium filled balloons above the stage, their significance morphing in tune with the nuances of each scene. A simple design, but in the mind of the audience it can represent molecules or galaxies, party guests or speech bubbles, or even an invisible tumour. Alongside David McSeveney’s staccato sound design and Simon Slater’s score, we get a full sense of how snap decisions can change the rhythms of life, love, and loss immeasurably.
‘We have all the time we’ve always had’ declares Manuel. More than once. As each scene is replayed, we pick up a better understanding of what is being said. And each time it pierces with a different force. When we know that maybe they haven’t the time, it is heart-breaking. At other times it fills us with joy and at times it is just funny. It feels like the perfect time for a revival of Payne’s extraordinary tale of infinite possibilities. But then again, any time is right – it is indeed timeless.
Whether or not you accept or reject the multiverse theory or believe in the notion of free choice, “Constellations” is the obvious choice of theatre to see right now. And if it is within your timeframe (or budget) to choose which cast to watch, I’d certainly try for as many of the four versions as possible.