Some day his prince will come, but not within the heteronormative rules that Disney so arduously enforces on poor Prince Henry, the only gay in the Kingdom.
Taking the stage in the heart of London’s queer fringe theatre, Rich Watkins’s one-man production, Happily Ever Poofter, is the adult children’s show that every grown-up and horny queer kid deserves after being deprived of Disney’s romantic representation whilst growing up.
Away from Henry’s isolatingly homophobic kingdom, the London gay scene, in which we appropriately happen to find ourselves sitting, is told as a far-off fantasy, paved with gold, ‘daddies and otters and bears, oh my’, and the promise of freedom. Despite all its romance and randiness, the script does not shy from the rawer realities of the clubbing scene, vulnerably and sensitively exploring the risks and stigmas around plunging head-first into a culture so idealised by young small-town runaways represented in Prince Henry.
Watkins’s impressive stamina, dynamic multi-rolling and infectious energy are all we can ask for from the force of an all-singing, ALL-dancing one-man show, without the need for an oddly placed and arguably cop-out puppetry scene when the script demands more than one voice. Working with Alicia Fowles’s minimal and slightly tired-looking set, scene and costume changes are anything but slick or satisfying, but Watkins does engage these restraints with honesty and style.
Whilst borrowing performance elements from pantos and drag shows, the ease of the audience’s participation in the play’s devious world is also a testament to Watkins’s passionate and fiercely committed performance. ]
As the Fairy Godfather says, ‘it takes community to make it magical’, so the support, participation and energy of an audience coming together, whoever they are, to make something magical feels warmly and naturally embedded in the fabric of the show.
After a passionate rendition of ‘let them know’ (a parody of that contentious song from Frozen) the stressed importance of community and activism also earnestly spills out of the theatre, post-show. A themed photobooth and a nearly naked footman distributing rainbow ribbons in the bar represent a show that wants to be taken with you.
Perhaps down to this being his debut writing venture, it is not difficult to detect a self-conscious sense of inhibition in Watkins’s script, even if mostly remaining hidden behind its raucous sassy wit. A few too many explained puns (maybe on account of requiring a Disney-literate audience) and over rehearsed go-to responses to verbally expressive spectators suggests a slight lack of faith in the writing as well as in the audience’s response to it.
The songs, a series of clearly-written and cleverly parodied Disney classics, almost make up for this; they epitomise Happily Ever Poofter’s noble goal, of eating up everything Disney can offer and spunking it out into a recklessly queer space through a recklessly queer body.
On top of the convincing floaty flamboyance of an animated Disney prince (I’m genuinely now wondering how many of these guys are still in the closet… Prince Eric?), the movement is a bold solo celebration of queer dance forms, and the clever rearrangment of the auditorium into a thrust layout does Simone Murphey’s choreography every justice, providing a runway for every death drop and vogue to sweatily spill across the stage.
Whilst viewing Happily Ever Poofter as case for queer representation in Disney’s repertoire doesn’t exactly present something fit for our childrens’ screens, the real message is very clear: when mainstream magic leaves us out, with a little self-love we can always create and dance our way through our own narratives with sass, spirit and spunk.