Review: The X / The Drag

The Arcola Theatre
4*

The Arcola Queer Collective brings us a bold double bill to kick off the Creative Disruption Season at Arcola Theatre – two very contrasting but politically linked plays – The X, a modern reimagining of Edouard Bourdet’s La Prisonnière, and Mae West’s infamous satire The Drag.

Both plays debuted in 1927 with their closing nights called all too soon as both were pulled offstage almost immediately for their unapologetic depictions of queerness and bigotry as the world was apparently not prepared to be confronted with the true face of the “cursed and degenerate.” Now 90 years on, Arcola Queer Collective presents both stories through an irreverent contemporary lens – highlighting simultaneously how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.

Setting the mood at 7pm is The X – a sexually charged adaptation of Bourdet’s La Prisonnière, one of the first plays to openly portray lesbianism – which even led to the arrest of the entire original cast back in 1927 and sparked new laws against obscenity on stage. Part burlesque, part Brecht, this is a stylised piece that often leans towards performance art and explores a complex and intimate web of friends and lovers grappling with desire, submission and unrequited love. It’s an irreverent celebration of sex, kink and the human body – notably the body in its barest, most fluid form – with gender-blind casting and matter-of-fact nudity prevalent throughout. It’s also refreshing to see such a strong depiction of queer and specifically female sexuality in contrast to the insipid and commodified version of lesbian sexuality that we are so used to seeing within the mainstream.

Director and Queerlesque star Rubyyy Jones writes in her opening notes: “As Queers, as LGBTQ+ people we are sexualised and segregated because of our sensual expression and so we are, potentially, given freedom, invitation and instigation to explore our sex, wants and fantasies more than others.”

The cast is a gloriously diverse mix of accents, ethnicities, body shapes and gender identities and the actors themselves come from a range of different performative backgrounds, a rich and varied visual composition that is too rarely seen on stage.

The 9pm slot is taken over by Mae West’s lightning quick, camp comedy The Drag. This comes as a harmonious contrast to the dark and brooding world of The X. The play follows a love triangle between a closeted gay man, his business partner and his wife of convenience supported by an ensemble of heightened cameos, each adding another layer to the madness. This production decided to stick with the original 1920’s setting but peppered it with nods to contemporary culture including a crowd-pleasing big band rendition of Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack just casually slotted into a dance sequence.

This cast also is wonderfully diverse and each cast member really committed to the niche style of the play with strong comedic performances emerging as the story progressed.

This double-bill provides an important reminder of the great developments in LGBTQ+ rights since the debut of these productions in 1927 but interestingly, at times also shines a light on the struggles of our community that remain relevant 90 years later, indicating the areas that still require our passion and protest. The vibrancy and sense of pride was so palpable as the full-house audience trickled in and served as a reminder of how important it is to continue supporting both our LGBTQ+ and our creative communities.

The X and The Drag run until January 13th.    Booking.

(C)  CSM 2017

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