Review: Jonny Woo’s Un-Royal Variety

The Hackney Empire
19th / 20th Oct

4*

This Show has all the makings of a classic variety extravaganza, but manages to subvert heteronormative tropes with a strong dose of queerness that is raunchy, over the top, and makes one feel right at home. The volume and diversity of performance styles is staggering. Many are unfamiliar, international artists, while others are London favorites, and all of the performers contribute to an often highly sexual, and provocative style which is distinctly East London. A few favorites include British cabaret artist Lucy McCormack paired with trash queen, American performance artist Christeene. The two, who often focus their work on that which can be inserted and removed from their various orifices, feel like two halves of a whole, and what a disturbing, grimy whole they make.

Other hole-oriented performers include a mostly naked, Shakespearean acrobat who can not only pull-off minor feats of comedic circus, he also manages to deliver a minute-long version of Hamlet. The host of the show, Jonny Woo, transitions between acts with a bit of stand-up or addressing the audience directly on current events such as the recent public reaction to more prominent use of gender expansive language. He even joins some performers in song, and appears in various states of dress and undress, with a warm rendition of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn”, which the entire auditorium joined in on.

It is difficult to sum up what this variety show offers because it definitely lives up to its title. The barrage of performers is thrilling, inspiring, and exhausting. This production features such a fabulous range of performers; it is almost too much to process. It is a funny place to be as well because the tone of the entire production is so silly, edgy, and queer, that it makes being edgy and queer feel a bit normal, and a little less subversive than one might expect. However, this is a quality that I experience more and more regularly with the rise in popularity, and normalization of queer culture. This show raises a lot of questions for me about our queer place in dominant society, and even as members of our own community. But queer, existential quandaries aside, this show is a good time, and will make you howl with laughter and shock.

© S. Kane 2018

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