Shades of Diva
Lloyd Eyre Morgan
Three Minute Theatre and Dream Avenue Productions
Three Minute Theatre, Manchester
This is Lloyd Eyre Morgan's third full length play and his first musical. His other successes performed in Manchester in the past few years have been Dream On about coming out as gay in rural Wales and Celluloid about a dysfunctional family. Shades of Diva is all about a boy called Adam who lives with his mum in Brighton although they are originally from Manchester. His life and early struggles to perform in drag in 1978 when he is 15 are recalled by his later self the Drag Queen Diva whom he will become.
All Adam wants to do is perform like his idols Cher, Bette Midler, Dolly Parton and Barbra Streisand. The conflict comes from the fact that his mother Judy cannot accept the way her son is. She hates his putting on her dresses and even stealing her knickers to transform himself as he dreams of performing success. Yet it is all he lives for.
His main ally is his socially inept best friend Dylan who tries and for the most part signally fails to behave as he believes a straight lad should. But then it is not certain he is in fact straight. He agrees to join and support Adam in his battle over the drag if Adam will go out dressed to a drag bar.
Judy's friend Marion is Dylan's mum. She is the total opposite of the repressed single mum Judy who hasn't had sex for two years much to Marion's disgust. Marion is out for a good time and is almost more like a sister to her son. She doesn't understand Judy's difficulty with Adam's effeminacy. Diva narrates the story of the youthful tussle and then joins the action as the role model Miss Diva. This is the local drag star who takes the lads under his wing when they run away and teaches them both everything he knows about being a Drag Queen. This in turn enables Adam to become his true self.
Much of the very adult humour in the piece comes through the performance of Lee Peart as Dylan in his gawky youthfulness. One of his funniest moments is when he brags about the size of his appendage and we see the reactions of Adam and even the narrator Diva on her perch on the Brighton Pier structure in the middle of the stage.
Equally amusing is Lee Eakins as Miss Diva the world weary Drag Queen with a heart. He has many belly laugh lines including one about how mothers have a homing instinct for finding their own which starts in the womb so Adam will definetly be found. This is expressed in very earthy language which is a mainstay of his character. Sophie Anne Ellicott as Marion reminded this reviewer of Beverly in Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh. Her sauciness and interest in having a good time irrespective of the consequences are very engaging. Marion is a total contrast to the repressed and sour Judy whose own unhappiness at being a poor single mum is perhaps scant reason for the very hard time she gives her son. She totally fails to understand or value him and pays a high price for this as the action develops. This was the hardest character to portray and although Nicole Gaskell gives it her all it has to be noted that she doesn't have the audience on her side.
Although he plays his parts very engagingly it is sometimes a bit confusing which character Lee Eakins is supposed to be. He plays Miss Diva and also the older Adam as the drama stretches over a 20 year period and makes the strongest connection with the audience.
The Cher, Dolly and Barbra songs are well executed and sung live. They move the action along and the whole cast joins in stepping out of character for the duration to entertain the audience who lapped it all up including this reviewer. Perhaps the feistiest number is the "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B", which is a well known Bette Midler standard. Jonathan Booth as Adam transforms terrifically well into the drag star and lets rip most brilliantly especially in this song. This is in sharp contrast to his shyness as Adam which is also well depicted. His most outrageous guise where his height is a huge asset is as Cher with the frizzy black locks thigh length black boots and tight black leotard.
I am not sure that the attempt to reconcile older Adam with his mother some 20 years later is totally successful. There is nothing wrong though with the desire to have a happy ending and the audience were clearly pleased at the rapprochement.
This deservedly popular venue is shortly to overcome its major drawback of having only one convenience. The full house clearly enjoyed Lloyd Eyre Morgan's acute ear for realistic dialogue which is true to character and life. These are exciting times for this talented Manchester writer / director as he approaches the premiere this summer of the film version of his earlier hit Dream On.
Reviewer: Andrew Edwards