The night after the Brexit referendum vote, I went to see Coyote by Ponyboy Curtis at the New Diorama. Standing with the rest of the audience around the perimeter of the dark space, I willed Coyote to show me how to react to the political situation. I felt like I could feel everyone else willing it, too: the atmosphere was sweaty, terrified, oddly gentle, like we all thought we were made of glass. So we all stood there, watching six young white naked men moving around, but in the new glass of my bones I knew it wasn’t working. It was beautiful and ugly but it didn’t feel like a response to what had just happened.
Last night, as I went into Pecsmas shortly before voting ended, I found myself – all over again – willing a queer performance in a small fringe theatre to give me something that would feel useful in an unfolding political situation. Last night, though, the Pecs Drag Kings were loudly and cheerfully angry about it, and I felt on safer ground.
All the company members are female or non-binary, and Pecsmas was introduced as an “all-singing, all-dancing, all-deconstructing the patriarchy” show. The main thrust (excuse me) of the narrative is an attempt to rescue sweet-but-dim king Loose Willis (Katy Bulmer) from the claws of toxic masculinity past, present and future. In various drag cabaret versions of classic Christmas songs, the kings model alternate masculinities. Thrustin Limbersnake (Lauren Steele) and Scott Free (Rosie Potts) do Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ as a gay love story played out in a snowball fight. All four kings pull Christmas stockings out of their sparkly red hotpants and whip each other with tinsel during ‘Jingle Bell Rock’. My favourite is ‘All I Want For Christmas’ with John Travulva (Jodie Mitchell) and Limbersnake as two (polar) bears sweetly in love, kissing, fishing and wearing their harnesses.
John Travulva is a Scottish socialist Santa, our MC for the evening, wearing red for Labour. He leads the audience in a “Fuck You Boris!” chant, and a singalong to the tune of ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day’ where the first lines of the chorus become “Oh I wish that every Christmas could be gay / Where we don’t assume gender or sexualité.” He successfully creates an atmosphere in which it’s possible to think of the audience as a chosen family. Everyone’s smiling. I have a chat with the guy sitting next to me. I get a glass of wine at the interval and try not to worry about whatever’s happening beyond the walls of The Yard.
There’s a guest performer invited to each night of the two-week run. Last night it was TriniDad & TooGayThough (from Trinidad and Tobago), who gave a rutting, bravura turn – more confidently cheeky with the audience interaction than the Pecs themselves – with songs like ‘Soca Santa’ and ‘Virginity’, about the Holy Spirit giving Mary a good one.
Pecsmas is warm and fun, and although not all the skits are as witty or subtle as you might hope, everyone seems to be having a good time. A couple of bits remind me of Figs in Wigs shows – I’ve now seen both companies as 90s boybands dressed in all-white and their two versions of ‘Driving Home for Christmas’. The Figs version fixed identity through those songs in stranger (and more interesting) ways than Pecs, I think, but the Pecs versions don’t feel rigid or exclusionary. Pecsmas launches in on ‘Stay Another Day’ by East 17 and already the audience are engulfed in the silver whirl of the disco ball and encouraged to get out their phone torches.
I waited to get home before checking the exit poll. For ninety minutes inside the auditorium of The Yard, the Pecs Drag Kings held a space for hope. Now, the day after the night before, I want to think about tangible actions – organisation, resistance, practical ways to support people whose lives feel increasingly in danger – but I still want to believe that queer performance can do something for queer audiences over the coming years. Maybe holding a space for hope will be useful.
Pecsmas is on at the Yard Theatre until 20th December. More info here.