Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 22 December 2021

Review: Holiday Sauce…Booster! (Barbican, online)

‘A heady, carousing festive fantasy’: Brendan Macdonald reviews Taylor Mac’s virtual vaudeville.

Brendan Macdonald
Taylor Mac in Holiday Sauce...Booster! Costume by Machine Dazzle. Photo by Little Fang.

Taylor Mac in Holiday Sauce…Booster! Costume by Machine Dazzle. Photo by Little Fang.

At the heart of Taylor Mac’s ‘virtual vaudeville’ sits a song about Nora from A Doll’s House. It begins at the end, and imagines Nora’s first Christmas after leaving her family: sitting in a rented room, stomach aching from macaroons for dinner, wondering whether to stand in the queue for the shared bathroom on the landing. Dressed as a gorgeous gingerbread creation, Mac expresses with every detail the daunting, terrifying newness of liberated life that’s all at once mundane, solitary, exhilarating. It ends, rightly, underlining what could be said to have been Ibsen’s point at all along: ‘Being alone on Christmas is better than being alone when everyone’s there’. I think it’s my new favourite song for the holidays.

Not every bit of the *actually* joyful Holiday Sauce… Booster! is so traditional in its theatrical references: the show begins with Mac belting out a version of The Velvet Underground’s ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ mixed with the Carol of the Bells, followed by a campy and heartwarming christmas tree affirmation (‘Mama knew I was a little gay seed’) and a toast to the Marys. Mac uses a polyphony of materials (even when fucking them up) to riotously celebrate the underbelly of the emotional iceberg that is the holiday season. What is, in pre-pandemic times, an annual live performance turns digital, but it does not take the form of a simple recording of a live show. Instead, it’s a campy patchwork of live and studio performances, sketches, illustrations and DIY video collages sewn together with an overall message to honour those chosen mentors who loved us and led us to that rented room.

I think at this point the trope of family dysfunction around the holidays is often used as another vector towards capitalist excess and political resignation, or at the very least another way to sell Netflix holiday specials or Drag race narratives. But in a bauble-filled segment beautifully illustrated by Dana Lyn, Mac sings a merry little song about the — to put it mildly —unpleasantness of Christmases past to explain what ‘chosen family’, another perhaps now overused trope, actually means. Mac goes on to honour the late Mother Flawless Sabrina, judy’s (Mac uses the pronoun ‘judy’) drag mother, who is throughout the show personified as a fabulously crafted puppet onstage. But Mac also dedicates the show to local activists and performers: Paulette Thomas-Martin, an art teacher for SAGE and grass roots activist who is present at the live performance, and the London drag collective, the Bloolips, for the digital London audience.

Taylor Mac is, as always, a singular performer whose vocals demonstrate a total mastery in storytelling, perfectly accompanied by Matt Ray’s musical direction. And, of course, Machine Dazzle’s costumes (featuring a divine snowflake and what I think is a sumptuous trifle) are show-stealing, and if anything are the only reason I wish the show were live so as to see them in person.

In some ways Holiday Sauce… Booster! can be seen as an antidote to sickly sweet mulled wine and traditional festive cheer. Mac’s rendition of ‘O Holy Night’ is a cheeky lesson in substitution skills, enlightening those of us who feel set off by the oppressive religiosity/misogyny/oppression inherent in the season to find fun and sometimes filthy alternative associations (do not worry, there is a fisting joke). But I think as a queer potion it does a little more than that. Mac says, ‘Now that we have our own liberation amongst the liberation of others, everyone can be invited to the party, it does not squash us anymore’, and then invites the inimitable Thornetta Davis, a Blues icon from Detroit who is Christian, to sing the final verse. Yes, Holiday Sauce is jollily irreverent, but its irreverence has purpose. Crucially, Mac’s politics is a politics with vision.

‘You got to dream the culture forward’, Mac says. And that I think sums up the heady, carousing festive fantasy Mac concocts. It’s a dreaming of a type of life and culture where the afflatus (the creative spark) reigns supreme. It’s a dream that Nora can dream in her rented room on her first Christmas alone.

Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce…Booster! streams live through the Barbican on 24th December. More info here

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Brendan Macdonald is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Holiday Sauce…Booster! (Barbican, online) Show Info


Directed by Taylor Mac

Written by Taylor Mac

Cast includes Taylor Mac

Original Music Matt Ray

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