“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
“an interesting experience for theatre goers who like their plays cryptic and undetermined”
Fix is a play about an old woman who lives alone in a mysterious wood, and a repairman who comes to mend her very old washing machine. Julie Tsang’s play is part thriller, part mystery, all set in a puzzling location that could be a forest in, well, just about anywhere. But before one starts thinking Grimm’s Brothers’ fairytale, it is clear that the Chinese woman, Li Na, who inhabits the house, is no western witch waiting to ensnare young children with sweets. She is, however, clearly part of a Chinese mythology, either traditional or reimagined, who may, or may not, have dragons in her attic.
The premise for this story is straightforward, but from the moment Kevin arrives at Li Na’s house, everything else dissolves into ambiguity. So it is for the audience—the moment we enter the downstairs space at the Pleasance Theatre. The set (designed by Rachel Wingate) is low lit (lights designed by Ali Hunter), and the fog in the air creates a further sense of indistinct boundaries. The seating bleeds into the set on one side. So it’s a nice touch when the cast enters the back of the stage from the street and injects a sense of a concrete world outside before enclosing us once again in this enigmatic space. Added to all this mist and mystery is Richard Bell’s sound design, which is also highly appropriate to the theme, and which adds yet another layer of doubt.
The play begins with a voice telling us a myth about a “magnificent tree on six legs.” Then Kevin steps into the house, and his first response is to tell Li Na, very firmly, that her washing machine is too expensive to fix, and that she’s better off just buying a new one. Things get weird. Li Na doesn’t want a new machine, despite having the money to buy one. She wants this one fixed, and fixed tonight. She has money, she has beer if Kevin’s thirsty, she has tea for his headache. She keeps repeating, ominously, that he “will be here awhile.” She asks a lot of questions about whether her house is the last call of the day, and whether he has anyone he needs to go home too. Playwright Tsang has great skill in building suspense. Actors Mikey Anthony-Howe and Tina Chiang present characters Kevin and Li Na as fully rounded and believable. Fix is ably supported by Jen Tan’s direction.
But the problem with Fix is that, plot wise, it wanders in much the same way that Kevin once wandered through Li Na’s woods as a boy. At any point during the play, the audience might be wondering “is this the moment dragons burst through the ceiling”? “Why does Li Na steal a tool from Kevin’s tool bag if she’s not planning to brain him with it”? And despite all these warnings that something is not quite right in Li Na’s house, Kevin doesn’t seem to want to escape nearly enough. Instead, this experience is a seventy minute stroll through a series of shifting situations from a real problem (fixing the washing machine) to less explicit problems (what else has Kevin been summoned to fix?) with a lack of a clear resolution at the end.
In conclusion, Fix is best summed up as an interesting experience for theatre goers who like their plays cryptic and undetermined. It does take a fresh look at the more traditional murder mystery, but even that may be reading too much into this perplexing situation.