Life’s a Drag
Nancy Brabin Platt
Gas Money Productions
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
Fun and feisty, Life’s a Drag reveals the parallel lives of an awkward young Queer.
Maxine struggles to resolve the tension between family pressures and her identity, something that itself remains unreconciled. Her outlet is Drag Diva, a say-it-how-it-is alter-ego who can be, and can do, all the things that 18-year-old Max cannot.
In its staging, the show exudes the restless spirit of its protagonist, and director Lois Brabin Platt spreads the action across every inch of Ellie Campbell’s brilliant set, a design complete with chiffon-shrouded toilet bowl, an understated witty nod to the bathroom scenes. The set is further enhanced by several monitors that flicker with vintage movie and TV clips and close-ups of Diva herself, put together by highly proficient technical designer Fifi Bechler.
The monitors come into their own as the show alternates the confidences of a disorientated teenager with the octane-fuelled lip-synching of Diva cleverly conjoining Max’s two selves, albeit the effect is slightly marred by some sound issues.
In this solo piece, writer and performer Nancy Brabin Platt does a fine job of portraying all the characters in Max’s life and positively fizzes with energy as Diva, with Brabin Platt capitalising on skills honed over her three years on the East London drag scene.
Through her narrative, admittedly one that could do with more clarity and backstory, Max reaches crisis point and is forced into action, a device writer Brabin Platt uses to bring to the surface some interesting and perplexing issues.
Fans of Drag Race and consumers of drag entertainment more generally probably don’t think about the political angle of drag as a genre or the possibility of protectionism amongst its predominantly cisgender male practitioners, but, as Max says, you don’t think that women may also want to reject male-dominated culture?
In reality, the drag scene is more nuanced by far than Drag Race and more complex than a rejection of male-dominance. Drag kings have a thriving subculture of their own addressing stereotypes of masculinity and more besides, and there is the less well-known but very much present female drag queen scene of which Diva becomes part.
RuPaul’s misogyny has garnered more than its share of column inches over the years, and his anti-transgender stance got yet more coverage—and was eventually rescinded (in season 9, Drag Race featured a transgender performer)—but Brabin Platt presents a story where such sentiments continue to have traction, most notably through social media and amongst TERFs.
The fandom of Drag Race’s glamour and dramatics may wish to remain blind to the grittier side of the real drag world revealed in Brabin Platt’s play, and it may not matter to those goaded by a faux-tolerant media into being pleasurably outraged and/or guiltily enthralled by gender fluidity.
For sure, though, whilst many are still tying themselves up in knots over who owns pronouns, it is good to see work that broadens the conversation.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti