Alex Lanipekun, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Kevin Harvey, Danny Sapani, Holly Quin-Ankrah, Kate Gillespie, Jessika Williams, Billy Carter, Leon Lopez, Craig Stein, Drew Caiden
Tarell Alvin McCraney is Mr Everywhere at the moment.
He just scooped an Evening Standard Award for most promising new playwright and here comes his Wig Out!, fresh from success at the Vineyard Theatre, off-Broadway.
For the purposes of the production the Royal Court’s Downstairs Theatre has become a New York night club complete with catwalk with a mirror finish floor, glitter balls and music blaring.
Wig Out! takes its audience into the world of drag culture, of drag houses that compete with each other in balls.
It’s a hard piece to categorise: it has the energy of a musical and the tripping rhythmic quality of poetry and is all sequins and sparkle and glamour and fabulousness.
The play focuses on the House of Light led by the dignified house mother Rey-Rey (played by the rich-voiced Kevin Harvey) and the, at times aggressive, house father Lucian (Danny Sapani). Into this hierarchal world comes Eric. He has just had a brief liaison with a child of the house, Wilson, who when he swaps his jeans for heels, a wig and a teeny-tiny dress, becomes Nina. Their attraction to one another is strong, but Eric struggles to reconcile the two sides of Wilson/Nina; he likes his men to be men. He is however happy to tag along and watch the preparations for the Cinderella Ball, for which they’ve been given only one night’s notice.
This and the rest of the on-stage action is narrated by the Fates Three, a trio of female singers, Fay, Fate and Faith (played by Holly Quin-Ankrah, Kate Gillespie and Jessika Williams) who act as a chorus, shaping the mood of the scenes. They also get a fantastic mime number to themselves in the climactic ball.
Plot, it has to be said, takes a backseat throughout all this, as does character development though there is some attempt to provide back story via a series of spot-lit monologues in which each character shares something of themselves starting with the words: my grandmother wore a wig but McCraney is far more interested in bringing to life this world and its rules and codes, its essence. While the play could be accused of being rather thin in regards to character, this seems to be intentional; the play seems more concerned with painting a bigger picture of a particular culture and how it operates than with such details.
There is, however, a moment of poignancy at the end when Rey-Rey has to acknowledge that she is, in drag terms, past her best and must hand over her role of mother to one of her young charges, but this is only a blip amid the main business of the face off between the House of Light and the scheming House of Diabolique, the black to Light’s white.
So, yes, accusations of flimsiness about Dominic Cooke’s production are warranted, but it’s also a hugely entertaining piece, that with its simple structure and boo-hiss villains, has a real feeling of panto, albeit one with more explicit humour and men with the kind of legs that would make most women weep with envy. One can see why the Royal Court picked it as their Christmas show.