Writer and Director The Duchess Carpathia Bouffray
Book / Lyrics: Anton Dudley
Music by: Michael Cooper
Comedy laced with acerbic insight and always outrageous, Alternative FAQs and Apres-Ski are the latest shows from The Duchess Carpathia Bouffray.
A European Royal from ‘Kaftanada’, a lesser-known country specialising in kaftan production, The Duchess sees her status tumble after her country stages a coup. On holiday in Las Vegas, The Duchess is now penniless, rootless and hidden in her hotel room, unable to pay the bill.
Surrounded by empty wine bottles, The Duchess considers her position (pun intended) in Alternative FAQs. Inhabiting a drag persona that incorporates classic glamour (the kaftan, the turban) and a sharply questioning attitude to politics and gender, The Duchess demands our attention.
Filmed in her hotel room, any topic is up for discussion: white artists appropriating from other cultures; the narrowness of the binary approach to gender. The Duchess considers the phrase ‘frequently asked questions’ and asks if the FAQs are frequently answered, maybe the answers are wrong. Maybe the questions themselves are wrong.
It is this pushing of boundaries that quantifies both shows. In a glorious, stripped back coda to Alternative FAQs, The Duchess takes us to a sun-bleached Mojave desert. She imagines a world without binary definition, and those delusions that society gives credence to (“money dressed as clout”). In Apres-Ski, The Duchess also talks about her partying past. This was not an indulgence, she says, but rather an escape from how LGBTQIA+ lives were categorised during the 1990’s. Not only sidelined, but suppressed – gay culture is readily consumed by heteronormative society, but with no acknowledgement of queer rights or dignity. This takes its psychological toll. At the beginning of Alternative FAQs The Duchess can barely bring herself to move. Why start if you know how it’s going to end?
Told in a drag / musical theatre / cabaret hybrid, Alternative FAQs and Apres-Ski both deploy surrealist humour to puncture the darkness. In fantasy adventure Apres-Ski, The Duchess interacts with a series of characters (some human, some not) to explore psychological issues such as connection and loneliness. The tone of both Apres-Ski and Alternative FAQs leans from playful to risqué, with no subject off limits. But what also connects the shows is a brilliant soundtrack by Anton Dudley and Michael Cooper.
Dudley (the alter ego of The Duchess) and Cooper provide the emotional heartbeat of the series. The music ranges from sweet, Disney-esque love songs (Downhill From Here); acid pop anthems and the power ballad Without You, where The Duchess digs into full glamour drag.
It is this playing with ideas, references and assumptions that makes The Duchess Carpathia Bouffray Series so fascinating to watch. As political satire, it works. As bawdy comedy, it works. Taking a good, hard look at where we are now, and what it took to get here, The Duchess offers little in the way of consolation, as distance travelled does not always equal empathy and understanding. The Duchess offers a nihilistic vision, but looks to a better future – long may she reign.
Streaming on HappiTV
The Duchess’ website is here