By The Family Jewels
Omnibus Theatre 28th February 2020.
The drag king collective with the big concepts are at it again. MANdemic has a bold premise – the incels were right, feminists are trying to cancel men… and by the 31st Century they’ve succeeded. The only men left are in breeding programmes or cryogenically frozen for science, but tonight, for one night only, the women of 3019 get to witness 2020’s toxic masculinity firsthand.
Set up established, the kings introduce themselves and they all have their own contingent of fans in the audience. It’s a rowdy, supportive atmosphere, fitting for a Friday night, though there’s a strong element of preaching to the choir, there is also the sense that we might discover something new. Beau Jangles, Ben Dyldo, Dan Load, Dickie Martin, Raymond, and Sir all have their own mini acts, in between the group boyband routines which start off as great fun, although the gambit has diminishing returns.
Standout highlights include a beautifully performed, emotionally manipulative and entirely unapologetic live rendition of Justin Bieber’s Sorry by Dickie Beau and, on the same note, The ‘Fuckboi’ routine, in which the sleazy Sir courts and then repeatedly abandons a hapless woman (played by Dan Load in a tutu in a very entertaining tongue-in-cheek almost double drag) while the other boys preen and peacock in unison. It’s a witty summary of the Tinder/side piece dating scene and the collective cheer when Girl!Dan finally stands up for herself and ditches the fuckboi is the emotional pay off we all deserve, but often don’t find in a drag show.
The terrace-painted Raymond is tragically underused, delivering a brilliant poetic monologue about the loneliness of contemporary manliness and then disappearing for the rest of the show. Less confident in the group numbers, Ben Dyldo truly comes into his own as a ‘late 21st Century brotest singer’ – a latter day MRA Bob Dylan. In all, every performer has a strong set-piece in their act which, for the most part, fits with the theme, although the narrative thread is looser than I would have liked and the transitions between scenes definitely needs sharpening up. The Family Jewels are a well-balanced collective who are doing the work to make drag more relevant and use it as a tool to agitate rather than just entertain. Perhaps that’s why I was expecting a more incendiary or incisive finale. After an hour of solid drag show it peters out at the end with a confusing breakdown of the premise into a weak chant of “fuck the binary” that didn’t quite catch on. MANdemic needs some polishing, perhaps a dramaturg, but it’s work with lots to say and in our current climate we could all stand to hear it.
Sophie London @solosays