Drag King Richard III, playing now at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, is certainly unusual, often thought-provoking and sometimes moving. It weaves the story of King Richard III’s seduction of Lady Anne from Shakespeare’s historical play with the contemporary story of one woman’s decision to undergo a sex change, and move from being Laurie to Laurence.
The show uses a stylised approach to story-telling. It opens with Laurie (Anne Zander) sharply dressing in a suit to the theme from The Saint, recalling the debonair Roger Moore. At its best, the show provokes dialogue about the differences between a lesbian and a trans man’s experience of sexuality and life in general. The telling of Richard III’s courtship with Lady Anne reveals that story in a new light.
Although the basic narrative intrigues and offers insight, Drag King Richard III comes with a lot of extraneous baggage that lends the production a disjointed feeling. It’s unclear what a disco dance sequence is meant to add, and the awkwardness with which it’s performed suggests the actors don’t either. The direction sometimes steps into overly-literal territory, such as the tango between King Richard and Lady Anne during the wooing scene.
The victory here is in the performances. Bonnie Adair isn’t giving the easiest task, narrating the show from the point of view of Laurie’s lesbian friend, since a lot of her dialogue is spoken directly to the audience; but she’s a good storyteller and gives the audience a much-needed route to follow through the show. Anne Zander is also impressive, revealing vulnerability beneath a cold exterior, and turns Laurie/Laurence into an appropriately enigmatic character.
With a lot of the story revealed through expositional dialogue, keeping the two actors apart, Drag King Richard III too often feels undramatic, and only wholly bursts into life when the actors interact. Whilst Drag King Richard III runs to only seventy minutes, a tightening up to more fully reveal the real human story, perhaps told through the mirror of Shakespeare’s world, would benefit it in bringing the key themes to the foreground. In its current state, it feels unfocussed and under-rehearsed.
Some of the performances will be followed by a post-show discussion about the themes raised by Drag King Richard III, chaired by either Del LaGrace Volcano or Laura Bridgeman. The audience will have the opportunity to put questions to the creatives behind the production.