Review: Taylor Mac

Lift Festival, The Barbican

I have always been quite jealous of people who can knit, and vaguely fascinated. And so – random as it seemed – I was pleasantly intrigued when I walked into the Barbican on Thursday 28 June for Taylor Mac’s show, to find a knitting circle plonked in front of the on-stage orchestra. A definite, mysterious tease for the audience; the randomness of which sets precedent for the night – succinctly named A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: A First Act.

I have always been a fan of drag in all its forms but I’ve never before had the pleasure of seeing one of Taylor Mac’s shows until now and what a show?! Extravaganza doesn’t quite cut it. Spectacle doesn’t quite manage expectation of this phenomenal piece of glitzy, interactive, glamour-f*ck, gender-bending explosion.

We are told by Mac (whose preferred pronoun according to Wikipedia is judy), that the “extrava-specta-xplo-show” – as I will call it – is part of a 24-hour piece, which takes us on a journey through popular music, from the time of the countries inception in 1764 right through to the modern day. Mack effortlessly and beautifully sings with dulcet tones, from ancient ballads to drunken pub-tunes, telling stories, having political rants and getting the audience involved with every toss and turn of the whirlwind piece.

Judy is accompanied by local performance artists the Dandy Minions serving us everything from fishy drag, to look-queens, to drag kings, to genderf*ck, to bio-queens and more. Also playing a part are the London Gay Men’s Chorus and Friends. This community linking makes the performance personal to us and makes us feel like nobody has ever seen this particular show in this particular way – a special ingredient which also promotes the fantastic work of local artists. A nice touch!

The costumes were out there and extravagant, although sometimes it felt that, although the creative concept was clever, the execution slightly missed the mark. Lighting was beautiful and brought us into the fantastic worlds, which Taylor and musical director Matt Ray create through their composition and performance.

If there is anything to criticise at all it would be that I wanted more. At the end of the three hours I wanted to find out how judy was going to continue through the decades. It would have been great to see what judy did with more modern music – we only reached the 1780s. Perhaps a three-hour show which was a condensed version of the full-length extrava-specta-xplo-show, rather than just the beginning.

Taylor Mac I salute you and tip my flat cap in your direction for producing one of the most unforgettable shows I think I will encounter. As for the knitting circle and why they were there? I’m still not sure, but I loved it!

©Paul Bloomfield 2018

This production has now closed, but visit Taylor Mac’s website for upcoming shows and more info.

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