Gary Amers, Russell Whitehead, Portia Emare, David Furnell, Colleen Daley, Lee Greenwood
Music hall may be old hat, Ethel Merman and Judy Garland dead, and full-on camp rather on the decline.
But when all these things combine in Stuart Woods Franks Closet, the resulting show could not be more alive if it tried.
The piece was written specifically for Hoxton Hall, an original Victorian music hall, and first appeared there in July when the cast included Debbie McGee.
As Frank contemplates his forthcoming civil partnership, he feels the need to turn his back on ‘childish things’ and to throw out the collection of famous divas’ costumes he has gathered over the years.
But as he goes to cast each into a basket to send to the Victoria and Albert Museum, he conjures up the respective wearer (Marie Lloyd or Julie Andrews) who spouts pearls of wisdom as they put on a music hall act.
Each of the famous characters is played brilliantly by Russell Whitehead, who is no stranger to drag, having appeared as Mary Sunshine in Chicago. Whether he is looking drop dead gorgeous as Judy Garland in fishnet tights (!), or boogying on down Abba-style as Agnetha Faltskog, he presents one seriously classy act, and his powerful voice is a wonder to behold.
Though nothing said by the divas feels revelatory, it is clever how amidst the joyous songs (Wood has successfully written each to emulate the style of the performer in question), a number of points are quietly made concerning life, love, identity and belonging. Gary Amers aids the exploration of these issues by sensitively portraying Frank as a man who is desperate to be true to himself, but rather struggling to discover who exactly he is.
The little insights and subtleties would not make the show in their own right, but by underlying such a thoroughly exuberant affair, they only make the glitz and glamour even more enjoyable. Catherine Phelpss set designs and India Banks costumes are beautifully sumptuous, whilst Amers and Whitehead are supported by (amongst others) a splendid trio of Gaiety Girls (Portia Emare, Colleen Daley and David Furnell). Furnell is particularly effective as we witness in this drag queen a cross between the archetypal camp male and the traditional pantomime dame.
With the audience adding to the atmosphere with its laughing, cheering and clapping along, Franks Closet seems as guaranteed to warm your cockles as any shot of brandy or glass of mulled wine this Christmas.