Señorita Rita's Drag Show

Pepa Duarte
Pepa Duarte
Calm Down, Dear Festival at Camden People's Theatre

Señorita Rita's Drag Show Credit: Hector Manchego
Señorita Rita's Drag Show Credit: Hector Manchego

It may only have been on for one performance, but on Tuesday night, there was enough energy and warmth at Camden People's Theatre for a week's run when Peruvian performer and theatre-maker Pepa Duarte took the late slot at the tenth Calm Down, Dear Festival with Señorita Rita's Drag Show.

Just as drag queens play on going over the top with feminine stereotypes, Duarte dons a big wig and puts on the slap to teach us how to see migrant women differently.

She starts with a lesson on how to roll our Rs so—not a big ask—we can pronounce her name properly, and proceeds from there.

She has a go at the suppositions that come her way from the lazy, or geographically blinkered, who compound South American countries into one (an offensive conflation not exclusive to African nations). Along the way, she has a dig at those for whom South American countries are generally interchangeable with those of the Iberian Peninsula—it's all maracas and Macarena after all isn't it. For those who know something of Peru, the question is, "does she come from Macchu Piccu?"

As she jokes, dances and lip synchs, she leads a charge headlong into assumptions about both sides of migration.

Yes, we get that everyone here can drink water out of a tap and those that join us from afar can see their native cultural icons in British museums, but just why do women leave behind their loved ones and risk isolation in a strange new country? Let's be clear, it's not for the tap water.

In the case of Peru, it could be the legacy of the many thousands of Indigenous women forcibly sterilised under the regime of dictator Alberto Fujimori, or the present draconian laws against abortion.

As Rita lip-synchs to Christina Aguilera's "What A Girl Wants", the answers, or at least some of them, come through loud and clear on the signs she holds up.

They call for equality and justice and, from an audience still raw from the previous day's shocking judgement, they receive a supportively noisy response.

It is well-deserved and, although Señorita Rita's Drag Show is funny and moving, it is not flawless. A sketch mocking Peruvian shamanism doesn’t quite land, it's chaotically put together with an ill-fitting filmed intro and Rita's accent can be unforgiving.

But it is also bafflingly clever. Sometimes, you feel that London-based Duarte's Señorita Rita has so much geniality, you are barely being told off and at others, it feels like she's dishing out a kick to the head.

Fortunately, this curvaceous Latina trope is on hand to help; "I'm the perfect mixture of a lama and Beyoncé," she says. Well, that explains the kick to the head then.

Señorita Rita's Drag Show is next on at the Migration Matters Festival in Sheffield on 23 June. Running time 50 mins, references to feminicide. Suitable for 16+.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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