“a momentary haven of queer togetherness in what has been a challenging and isolating cultural landscape for many people this year”
Pecs, the drag king collective, has been around on the queer circuit for seven years now. The boys are arguably the best-known kings in town, and have built up a loyal fan-base for their brand of sexy and subversive comedy cabaret performance. Queer cabaret has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic – relying as it does on intimate club spaces – and so it was a joy to be back in a room with groups of friends sharing tables surrounding a stage, and to enjoy some of the back and forth interaction between performer and audience that has been so sorely lacking for most of this year. The Pleasance has done a terrific job of retaining a lively atmosphere, whilst operating within COVID-safe guidelines; an effort enjoyed last night by performers and punters alike.
The kings themselves are fabulous. The evening is hosted by the inimitable John Travulva, giving us his best Santa, and is loosely structured around the need to save Christmas for the dejected Loose Willis. Loose gives voice to many of the frustrations the audience has felt this year, and thus Santa John’s restorative skills are much-needed medicine for us all. The evening is sexy and joyful. There is old-school crooning: Scott Free’s fantastic rendition of Rocking Around the Christmas Tree; striptease: a smouldering Victor Victorious and an anarchic Loose giving us two entirely different takes; an audience game of charades; stand-up; dance routines and even a Paul Hollywood impersonation thrown in for good measure. In true drag style, this was a Glaswegian doing an impression of a Scouser, but with a Brummie accent, as (self-confessedly) Scouse is the one accent not in their armoury. The ridiculousness was heaven. And Paul was perfect. Obvs.
For all its light-hearted festive razzle dazzle, Christmas Queer did also have the feeling of something essential. Pecs at The Pleasance was a momentary haven of queer togetherness in what has been a challenging and isolating cultural landscape for many people this year. When the lighters and the phones came out for the final number – East 17’s Stay Another Day – there was a feeling of genuine love underneath the silliness. And what could be more Christmassy than that?
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Stephen Allwright
Pecs: Christmas Queer
Pleasance Theatre until 12th December part of Queer Christmas Cabaret running until 22nd December
“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.