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Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 4 August 2014

Drag King Richard III

Riverside Studios ⋄ 28th July - 3rd August 2014

Drag dancing and trans identity.

Laura Seymour

‘Can not a plain man live?’ Whenever Shakespeare’s Richard III says that on stage, audiences tend to wince at his hypocrisy.  In the mouth of Lawrence (Anne Zander), however, a female to male transsexual who grew up in an uptight town in 1990s Georgia, it becomes a deeply honest plea from the heart. As it follows Lawrence’s transition and his friendship with, and desire for, his childhood friend LaFemme (Bonnie Adair),  Drag King Richard III is also a fresh reinterpretation of Richard III, transforming duplicity into frankness and murderous menace into godemiche-related humour.

As he woos Anne in the form LaFemme, for instance, Richard/Lawrence’s suggestion that she plunge a sword into his ‘bosom| And let the soul forth that adoreth thee’ is turned from a manipulative manoeuvre into an expression of an absolutely genuine desire for that sword (in the form of a surgical scalpel) to reshape his chest into the male form he has long desired. And Richard’s nephew’s dagger (‘being but a toy’), in this production takes the form of the hard-packing Lawrence’s dildo (much of which is seen during his earlier drag dance).

Especially considering that this production was subject to a drastic overhaul of the cast right before the show was due to open (leaving Adair and Zander, as the new LaFemme and Lawrence, only three days’ rehearsal), the performers both do wonderfully well. LaFemme, who has the hefty, varied role of narrator and actor-out of a miscellany of she and
Lawrence’s childhood mishaps, occasionally slips into a less nuanced delivery than Lawrence’s, supplementing her speech with shrugs and jerks of the thumb. As Lawrence, Zander has eyes that pierce and the ability to register an overwhelming numbers of emotions at once. As she watches LaFemme get in to her femme drag for the night, she brings a sort of stunned and exquisite sting to an unrelenting play of nostalgia, shock, and desire.

Written over a decade ago, Terri Power’s Drag King Richard III is a play that is responsive to its present day audience’s reactions. Each performance is followed by a Q&A with the cast, director, and the artist Del La Grace Volcano or the writer Laura Bridgeman, an act of commentary and appreciation that is treated as a crucial part of the performance run. The night I saw it, it was revealed in the Q&A that Laurie’s drag dance had been too much for the first audience and had been toned down on subsequent nights, ending abruptly with a carefully-balanced hat. The Q&A audience were especially attentive to the play’s status as more of (as one participant called it) ‘a period piece’, able to provide the first steps in informing audiences about trans* issues without necessarily capturing current development in trans* culture and politics.

This is a play that builds up richly, drawing on the way in which the two friends’ life-long obsession with acting out Richard III has interleaved with their burgeoning love (or, at least Lawrence’s overpowering and at times adorably gawky love for LaFemme). For example, as Lawrence recites Shakespeare’s words whilst LaFemme dresses him in a hospital gown in preparation for his top surgery, we are reminded of the childhood game they reminisced about earlier in the play, where they would steal hospital gowns and run around town pretending to be escaped psychiatric patients. (This being the very episode that propelled them to join the drama club on police advice, as it left them less likely to get arrested in future). These pin-pricks of nostalgia speak to each other across each (short) performance like beacons suddenly flaring to announce the arrival of a king.

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Laura Seymour

Laura Seymour is writing a PhD thesis on cognitive theory and Shakespeare in performance. Her poems have appeared in several journals such as 'Iota', 'Envoi', 'Ambit', and 'Magma'. Her book 'The Shark Cage' won the 2013 Cinnamon Press debut collection prize and is forthcoming in 2015.

Drag King Richard III Show Info


Produced by Stance Theatre

Directed by Roz Hopkinson

Written by Terri Power

Link https://www.riversidestudios.co.uk/

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