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Drag Baby | Pleasance Theatre

When entering the auditorium of the Pleasance Theatre in London, audiences are instantly greeted with the calming site of posters plastered onto the walls of iconic divas such as Dolly Parton, Cher, Divine and Grace Jones to name just a few. Cleverly, Grace Carroll’s script launches us into the club world of Dan (Stephen Cheriton), who welcomes the audience to a drag night, raising the audience’s energy immediately, before Dan’s wig is hung up and we enter Dan’s world behind the scenes as they grapple with life on the precipice of Drag stardom, and now, potentially, parenthood?

 

With a charming set design from Lu Herbert, audiences are made at home in the disorganised glamour of Dan’s dressing room (complete with a cracked mirror and a wine-stained carpet), who is excited that they are about to entertain producers for a big drag show (no awards for what this is alluding to, begins in Ru ends in Paul’s). Friend and fellow performer, Nathan (Ché) enters and poses some strong and thought-provoking questions to Dan about how drag isn’t really meant to be ‘mainstream’ and on ITV, and indeed Carroll honours Nathan’s message as we get to see two performances by Nathan during the show that really seem to pay tribute to the more subversive origins of drag and club culture that contrast with Dan’s more ‘conventional’ Dolly Parton lip-syncs.


Dan’s world is rocked when, after their performance, an ex-girlfriend, Sally (Nicole Evans) arrives and asks if Dan would consider being her and her girlfriend’s, Sally’s sperm donor. One key strength of Carroll’s script is that her writing delves into the concept that if one is not cis-gendered and in a ‘straight’ relationship, the idea of having a traditional ‘family’ is not nearly as accessible as it is for others with ‘straight’ or cis privilege. Indeed, the way that straight couples can (obviously with exceptions) choose to become pregnant or have a conventional family is in stark contrast to the reality of many queer/non-straight people’s experience. Sally and Sandra must put so much more effort into having a ‘family’ than traditional cis/het couples and meanwhile, Dan is struck by the fact that they never thought they could have access to having a family. Indeed, Dan reveals that at one point their family advised them not to do drag for fear that Dan would be alone, essentially, without a family of their own. These are all very real talking points for queer people and they’re touched on beautifully and authentically within Drag Baby.


Likewise, what strikes a chord in Drag Baby is the inclusion of all kinds of LGBTQIA+ relationships. There is a focus on Sally’s character feeling torn between wanting to be with Sandra but also having leftover and complicated feelings attached to Dan, and Nathan’s relationship with being pan, and these are important storylines than are often not explored, even within the queer community.  Often these kinds of storylines are left out in the popular queer discourse. Indeed, even the inclusion of all types of women and non-binary folk within queer culture is not something that always happens. All kinds of women and non-binary folk are just as much part of the fabric of the queer community and drag culture as any other subsection, so it is exciting and refreshing to see them authentically included in this story. It's so wonderful to see Nathan (who openly talks about being pan) and Sally (not a straight woman) both bonding over their love for Dan and how they both have these complicated but very real and human relationships with him.


Moreover, the cast are fantastic. With entertaining and thought-provoking performances from Cheriton as Dan, and Ché as Nathan, a nuanced depiction of Sally from Evans and the scene-stealing Sandra played by Amelia Parillon, combined under the direction of Joseph Winer, the show really shines. Indeed, it is rare that a character can come into the fold during the last section of the show (as with Sandra’s character) and still make such an impact which Parillon should be applauded for.  


With strong, nuanced characters, compelling performances and of course, healthy lashings of drag, Drag Baby proves to be an entertaining and thought-provoking experience.


Drag Baby is playing at the Pleasance Theatre until 22nd June - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4*)


Gifted tickets in return for an honest review

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