Writer: Andy Moseley
Director: Andy Moseley / Moj Taylor
PRO.ACT Fest is a Ukrainian theatre festival specialising in theatre performance and workshops. This year, the festival is showing online performances from around the world.
The theme for 2022 is “Unbreakable” and many of the shows have centred around ideas of strength; tenacity against the odds. Performing to an unseen audience, drag artist Lady Christina (played by Moj Taylor) wraps up her show. It is Wolverhampton on a Sunday night and Christina ain’t feeling it. A half-hearted Big Spender is her encore. The audience cheers as she stands in the doorway of her dressing room, soaking up that last bit of applause.
After the door closes, we are alone with Christina. The heels are kicked off and the make-up is wiped off. We are introduced to her alter ego, Chris Laneghan. As the ephemera of Christina falls away, Chris discusses where he finds himself in his career. He is 44 today (marking but not celebrating) and still working in 100-seater theatres above pubs. He remarks that there is “no fast-track to fame, no slow-track either”. He scorns the glittering phenomena of Drag Race. His drag, he argues, is authentic. Christina is a composite of strong Northern women. He references earlier days of Corrie: Elsie Tanner and Bet Lynch.
As Chris removes his make-up, he gazes at himself in the mirror, noticing how much he looks like his Dad. The ageing process is inevitable: under-eye concealer can only do so much. Chris thinks aloud as he talks to us: is it time to give up drag? Is it a young man’s game? Chris asks the question that becomes the focus of the show: when Christina is gone, what is left? His bitter aside that “the star is leaving, the nobody is emerging” is psychologically revealing.
Make-up uncovers the pain behind the glamour. Chris recalls his life BC (Before Christina); a typical working-class upbringing. A loving Mum, an emotionally distant Dad. Somewhat predictably, Chris’ coming out is met with disbelief and disapproval from his father. Chris turns to address the reflection in the mirror as if it were his Dad. They are estranged, and have been for years.
Andy Moseley’s script smoulders with resentment. It is not only the prejudice that Chris faces, but the impact on Chris’ mental health, his relationships. There is a devastating line about “tolerance going out of fashion” – acceptance for marginalised groups is never guaranteed. Moj Taylor is perfect as Chris/tina: the emotionally brittle quality of his monologue takes us to the heart of what drag can do. It is expression and freedom to articulate, but it is also armour and defence. To let all that go is not a small ask.
Make-up also asks bigger questions about identity and how we choose to define ourselves, particularly when living in a society that wants us to perform in a certain way. We move from realness to reality. The perfectionism of drag is stripped away to reveal an artist who, while thoroughly unsentimental, still longs for connection.
Available Online at SceneSaver until: 21 August 2022
Ed Fringe Underbelly until 29 August 2022