Pros: A personal and playful examination of drag culture from a man who has been there, done that and quite probably worn it as a t-shirt.
Cons: Some parts work better than others and the episodic structure can make the overall experience feel a little disjointed.
Seven years ago Michael Twaites burst onto the drag scene with his breakthrough show, Confessions of a Dancewhore. Now long established as a mainstay in the cabaret world, Twaites’ latest show, The Libertine Has Left The Building, finds our star in a reflective mood as he examines his feelings about drag culture and more generally about gay identity in modern Britain.
The overarching premise is the deconstruction of his persona – both drag and real – in front of the audience. It opens with Twaites as the archetypal drag stereotype, lip-synching and grinding away but with a rictus grin and fixed stare that suggests all is not well. The inevitable unravelling of the act is the jumping off point for Twaites’ self-examination. It ends full circle with a demonstration that for all the supposed glitz and glamour of the drag world, his outfit can be assembled in moments before the grand finale, where we are treated to a very knowing rendition of The Little Mermaid’s Part Of That World.
It is a clear strength that someone with only a very limited knowledge of the subject can find an hour spent in Twaites’ company a delightful experience. He is a marvellous raconteur and has an effortless ability to work the room to make sure that his audience join him on his journey.
The show takes a rather episodic approach to performance and relies heavily on the natural charm of the performer. For the most part, he has the charisma to breath energy into the smallest vignettes; for example, an anecdote that rests on a fascination with a painting in the National Portrait Gallery isn’t ever going to be performance dynamite but the force of his personality is enough for us to see the meaning he finds in it.
Much of the show sees Twaites wrestle with an urge to gravitate towards normality. Scenes are run with an assured lightness of touch, but looking through the façade we see a deeper self-reflexive side to them: an interrogation of what it means to be a gay man today and a playful deconstruction of the identities that are placed upon us by ourselves and others. This is most evident in his Wilde-inspired poem about the life of the gay middle class; it is a highly comic number but contains an undercurrent of anger at the expectation of the role the ‘gay friend’ should play that reminds us of Wilde at his acerbic best.
The show takes place on a sparse stage with only VFX projections and a John Lewis footstool for company. The projections are impressively done and help to create a secondary focal point when interest begins to wander. However there are times when Twaites leaves the stage and during these moments you the energy begins to drain away. At these times, you start to wish there was a slightly more cohesive structure to keep you engaged.
Overall The Libertine Has Left The Building is not a show that is going to appeal to all tastes. However, it has its moments and an evening will never be dull when you are hosted by Michael Twaites at his charismatic best; informative, entertaining and in possession of a fine singing voice.
Written and Performed by: Michael Twaites
Booking Until: 29 November 2014
Booking Link: http://www.tickettailor.com/checkout/view-event/id/18085/chk/8a51