This show has made its way up to the fringe Anna Ward

The moment ‘Persephone Porcelynn’ walks on stage in her ridiculous lipstick and platinum-blonde wig, you know immediately what you’re in for. Drag shows have always been a sort of rebellion against society – a flip of the finger and a mouthed ‘screw you’ to normative gender roles – and Dragtime Presents makes clear from the start that it couldn’t care less.

The hour unfolds as a series of cabaret acts with Persephone as compère. She introduces the audience to a host of ridiculous and bizarre personas, including a ghillied opera singer in a plant pot, and a string ‘quartet’ of three. Yes, this is a bizarre 50 minutes, but the tongue-in-cheek nonchalance with which it is navigated gets the audience on-side very quickly.

"James Coe is excellent in his characterisation and had the audience in fits."

Some of the most memorable moments include a Fifty-Shades rendition of The Sound of Music’s ‘My Favourite Things’, performed by a gleeful ‘Maria von Snatch’ spinning around in a skimpy nun costume. James Coe is excellent in his characterisation, and the lyrics, with BDSM as their recurring theme, had the audience in fits.

Helena Fox’s persona, a moustachioed Etonian known as ‘Tobias’, is also particularly well done. This caricature of a stuffy ‘right-winger’, sick and tired of Progressive Oppression. It was a bit of an easy target, as the man-spreading and nods to drinking society ‘liberation’ were performed with a particular audience in mind.  Nonetheless, it provided a humorous social commentary without becoming didactic. In a world of overwhelming camp-ness, it also provided a necessarily hyper-masculine counter-point.

"This is a show that relishes in its weirdness"

Other acts, however, were less successful. There was an impression of Theresa May which was trying to say something about her relationship with Donald Trump, but it was not particularly funny.

Thankfully, however, this is a show which relishes in its weirdness. I struggle to rationalise, for example, a rendition of Dido’s lament sung by a tree in a plant pot, yet I found it hilarious anyway. There were occasional slips during the lip-synching sections, but once more the audience was able to forgive them, perhaps because some of the performers are so convincingly absorbed in their own worlds that they probably wouldn’t care either way. This knowing carelessness is perhaps the show’s strongest take-home message, and appropriately so: Dragtime is a celebration of weirdness and often a parody of itself.


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There are times when I can envisage the audience becoming uncomfortable, particularly in some of the audience participation sections. At one point, for example, the compère pins down and straddles a volunteer from the audience during her act. The type of audience is therefore extremely important to this show’s momentum: at my viewing, the crowd whooped and cheered at just about everything and the performers fed off that energy.  I am sure the same atmosphere will be sustained throughout the run, but the occasional flat joke or clunky transition is not always as easily forgiven and audiences not always as easy-going.

That being said, Dragtime offers a bombastic variety performance which does not fail to arouse at least a curious chuckle from someone in the room. While the quality of the acts varies, there is a self-assurance which links them all together and a common commitment to flamboyance which characterises every gesture, costume and element of make-up. Some bits could be a bit more polished, but it’s hard to miss the essential elements of a great drag show here.

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