Edinburgh Fringe 2015
“Loud, crude and primarily drunk, Gloria Hole has been entertaining crowds of boisterous gays for 27 years. She’s survived the Eighties, comedowns and the odd vicious queen. But what the heck does an ageing drag queen do when it’s time to hang up her heels? And where on earth do drag queens retire?”… A sharp, funny and poignant theatre/cabaret drag act that tells the life of Gloria Hole and her changing role within the community.
Gloria sits doing her nails, patiently waiting for the audience to settle. She is an imposing figure – long legs, blonde hair and big lashes. As she begins her story it is clear that actor Hamish Smith has worked hard to develop this character. She is rude, quick witted and instantly strikes a good rapport with the audience. Dirty jokes and innuendos go down a storm and the audience erupt with laughter throughout. Songs punctuate the narrative as we listen to Gloria recount her experiences as a young drag queen and discuss her career to date. Reflections are offered about the changing nature of the business and her ideas about the gay scene in general. There is a sense of nostalgia for a community that has begun to lose its way and Smith delivers a series of poignant moments as Gloria discusses her days as a leading figure within a scene of politically engaged young people, to her life as a glorified barmaid within a hedonistic world that has begun to feel vacuous and shallow.
Writer Josh McAuley has done his research. The text feels informed and there is a richness to the writing which indicates the thought that has gone into the development of this work. Serious subjects such as the 80s AIDS epidemic are treated with sensitivity and intelligence. What’s more, this blend of cabaret and theatre is a brilliant way of exploring the themes at hand. Gloria’s character offers an opportunity to investigate the issues with wit and flare. Songs, and Gloria’s capacity engage with the audience through sharp one liners and improvised dialogue provide light relief and ensure that nothing feels overdone.
At times, I would like to see the issues developed more thoroughly. Much of the ideas are introduced but not expanded to their full potential. For example, the story stops short and we never discover what Gloria plans to do now that the 00s are upon us. Having followed her thus far, it would be nice to have some sense of where things are going. In addition, the combination of theatre and cabaret, whilst effective, could be developed slightly and I feel it would benefit the performance if McAuley decided exactly where he wanted to situate the text in relation to these two styles. Should this be primarily cabaret with bits of story telling? Or theatre which references this style and uses a few songs to set the tone?
Overall this is a strong piece of work. I enjoyed the performance, it engages with significant themes in a sensitive, thought provoking way and I am more than happy to recommend it.