Pride month is upon us and, with much public party space still on hold, this time of celebration, activism and reflection has bundled colourfully online. Razed and Confused, Raze Collective’s usual contribution to diverse, queer cabaret art, has been no exception. Moving their curation of emerging queer performance into online space, Razed’s collaboration with Something To Aim For nobly took on the opportunities and challenges of digital cabaret.
Perched on my sofa, missing the pre-show bar buzz, I’m pleased to be greeted by the charisma and charm of our host, award winning drag king, Beau Jangles; enough to put any lonely lounge viewer at ease and excitement. Beau’s hosting and performances (two songs remixed with a forties sound and sharp political commentary) are the only elements to preserve the cabaret liveness.
Whilst the music sometimes faded under poor sound mixing, and with witty, self-conscious reminders that drinks from at-home bars are cheaper, or that our cheers and reactions were missed, there is no hiding from the fact that these live segments are inevitably lacking in the usual electricity of the cabaret atmosphere. But there’s a unique intimacy to this too, as Beau’s flirtatious energy reaches each viewer in a kind of faux eye-contact; ‘it’s especially good to see you’, he flirts to the camera.
Every other commissioned performance is a pre-recorded film creation. Whilst lacking in liveness, most consistently compelling about most of these contributions is their taking of elements of cabaret culture (drag, pole dance, lip-sync etc.) and elevating them, using the powers of editing technology, into something completely unique and in celebration of the radical movements queer art is ever recognised for.
After a smooth fade transition from the live to the recorded, we’re first met by London drag queen, Barbs. Running through fields in stilettos, tossing silky clothes on bushes and dancing wildly around a bonfire, they guide us meditatively through a total queering of the countryside. We see how drag performance lives and breathes in an isolated, post-covid world when plucked from the glittering lights of the cabaret stage and dropped, hair-flicking and screaming, into a bleak rural reality. Coupled with eerie, cinematic music and creative visual effects, Barbs truly celebrates the emotional versatilities of drag.
Next up was Mr Wesley Dykes. Framed nostalgically as an MTV-style show, (cheesy graphics and camera angles and all) his collaboration with fellow dynamic performers (Romeo De La Cruz, Manly Mannington and Vic Slik) saw The Black Boi Band Project come shaking to joyful life. Whilst filmed in multiple locations, slick editing has them all dancing powerfully in-sync, building cleverly on the the lip-sync convention we know and love from queer cabaret. An interview section, delving into how R&B bands feed into ideas of black masculinity, thoughtfully added a social contextualisation, preserving drag’s ever-political edge.
Symoné’s performance is perhaps the most innovative to the digital landscape. As a circus and performance artist, the impressive skills and shapes of her body are visually elevated using psychedelic kaleidoscope effects, colourfully intimate close-up sequences and constant flashing images and colours. Her intensely avant-garde take on performative sensuality and her fully-embraced creative control over the way we see her body on screen makes for a powerful and vivid performance.
Lastly, a lesson in patriarchy, power and post-gender performance from Brian (Sophie Brain). Blending literature, music and extracts from iconic Grace Jones interviews, Brian’s performance is a political lip-sync extravaganza. Her glittering magnetism and physicality as an entertainer permeate from the live to the screened in perhaps the most nostalgic nod to live cabaret performance of the evening; less embracing of the digital format, but, nevertheless, proving that queer variety art is always (even in lockdown) a valuable and innovative place to invest in talent and difference in theatre.
Razed and Confused Goes Digital streamed live online 26 June 2020. For more information, visit their website.