Drag On both is and isn’t about being fierce, real, awkward and fake.
There is a point when performer James Morgan is contorted, bent back over themselves on the floor, lipsyncing to a speech by renowned Post-Human scholar Rosi Braidotti set to music. There is a point where the word ‘real’ is played re-formed and re-shaped through phrases and contexts. There is a point where Morgan dissects the figureheads who take fringe cultures mainstream. There is a point where the audience erupt at one of their members in a Saint George costume slaying the dragon. These moments are fierce.
The show is REALly good. It also feels like a show that interacts more than most with the real world as I know it – a product of 2018 rather than a Greek tragedy which happens to mention Instagram. It may just be that many of the references in Drag On fall in my exact area of dungeons-and-dragons-loving, gender-theory-studying interest, but the show engages in culture (from pop to academic) in a way that feels true to the way we encounter ideas and information. From randomised texts including critical readings on unicorns and Buzzfeed articles on the Babadook as a queer icon to slide-shows featuring video game character creation, furies, fan art and celebrities, the work creates a network of ideas that connect and play off each other in a way that is as thrilling as it is intellectually interesting.
There is a Kimya Dawson song which involves a young-sounding vampire singing about losing their fangs. As soon as Morgan stepped to the microphone the same impression given by that song was created – the previously terrifying mythological character humanised not as the romantic, magical being of Twilight or the wise and kindly helper of the Neverending Story, but an awkward, unsure creature. This teenage dragon proceeds to deliver a talk on drag and dragons, the similarities and differences between them – amongst them the difficulty of having an identity often defined by fierceness. Who is narrating seems to switch between Morgan and the dragon – each as charming yet uncertain as the other.
This awkwardness helps build a bridge with the audience, as they look after Morgan’s shoes, roll dice and stand in for Saint George. The hesitancy and stumbling in delivering text feels more like a pleasant texture in the fabric of the show than a problem, until the last third when the performance-lecture leans more towards the lecture side.
Drag On looks at the trangressive possibilities of the unreal – how fantasy attracts those that reality rejects and how the post- and non- human allows identities outside of the consensus beliefs of what it means to be human to exist. CGI, make-up, animation and costume dominate both on stage and on screen – even the footage of Professor Braidotti seems oddly superimposed on its background. For most of the show the form handles balancing the potentially abstract and confusing theories with the familiar well. It is when the real starts to impose itself – Morgan wiping off their make-up before the final speech – that it potentially overbalances. While I agreed with everything said, it felt too final and grounding for a show which so often revels in the ambiguous and otherworldly: like an essay-ending conclusion placing a ‘you have reached your destination’ sign in front of the road into the misty mountains.
Drag On is a beautiful show – bizarre and inviting. It has hoarded a pile of treasures (including glorious costumes, inventive projections and exciting dance) which reflect and refract the dragon at its centre, creating a light show that is both breathtaking and illuminating.
Drag On was on at the Wardrobe Theatre on Bristol from 12 – 13 April 2018, and is next performed at La Fete du Slip, Switzerland 11 and 13 May. Click here for more details.