Review | Drag & Drag: Good Art, Bad Men

Drag & Drag: Good Art, Bad Men | The Ellington | Until 2 Feb | ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Drag (noun): Entertainment through subversion of gender expression.
Drag (verb, colloquial): To publicly shame a person for their faults.

As we waited for the show to start, the songs of Michael Jackson played, prompting our table to discuss the recent documentary Leaving Neverland and how that affected public views about his work and life.

Nicola Macri (under guise of Charlie Chaplain) welcomed us to the show, declaring the assumption that the audience must hold inherently good values, being that we were out at Fringe on Jan 26th and not participating in “other events occurring that day”. It is the concepts of greatness and goodness that this show set out to explore.

There’s an old adage about the dangers of meeting your idols because the law of averages states there’s a good chance that the person staring back at you from that poster on your wall isn’t worthy of your praise. Expanding on this, if your idols are men, the law of averages becomes even worse.

Drag & Drag’s cast of non-men dressed up as their most beloved male artistic icons, performed a sample of their work, and then told us all about what terrible people these artists were.

Cast members waded through the contradictions of a particular artist’s behaviour versus their work, and posed the question of whether we can (or should) separate the behaviour of an individual from their art.

Each act explained the deeply personal effect that their chosen icon has had on their life (and life’s work) and left us with the uncomfortable lament that one cannot just go back in time and be re-inspired by someone else.

The audience was guided through a variety of acts – story time, dance, song and performance – that framed the realities of the women in the lives of these men as being expendable, cast as grotesque witches, or as silent and long-suffering victims. A disclosure about the less-than-noble actions of these idols elicited a response not of shock or disbelief, but of unsurprised, resigned acceptance. Why are we NOT surprised at this type of behaviour?

As David Bowie character took the stage, it was if the queers in the room collectively shifted uncomfortably in their seats, in an unspoken acknowledgement of our complicity in knowing the problematic nature of some of Bowie’s behaviour (read: statutory rape and remarks about Nazis) yet forcing ourselves to explain it away, wish that is wasn’t true- or worse, work to wipe it entirely from our memory. Bowie is a God to many, myself included, but how can you possibly worship a God who had done these other terrible things?

By the time someone looking suspiciously like an Attenborough took the stage it was like the audience had had enough of these truths. Please, don’t ruin this, don’t let him be a bad man too!?! Luckily, Attenborough was there to present the #notallmen segment disclaiming “We f***ing know it’s not all men! We don’t want it to be all men! We don’t enjoy hearing that all our heroes are s**t!”

Drag & Drag asks us, how many lives is artistic genius worth destroying? What collateral damage to non-men are we prepared to accept in order for society to have these artistic gifts? In a post #metoo and Nannette world, can we continue to ignore the complexities that men can be great and terrible at the same time? That things are grey and complicated?

Rather than dragging these beloved names through the mud, or seeking to expose unknown and salacious facts of the lives of famous men, Drag & Drag invites us to challenge the collective amnesia that sets when men whose art have reached the hearts of millions while their actions have destroyed the lives of many women close to them.

This information is not new. These are things that we already know. Sitting there, I couldn’t help but recall that the venue we were sitting in had its own controversy in 2016 with sexist remarks leading to a boycott by band All Our Exes Live in Texas. Was no place safe?

I bring this up for context of how common this issue is. I am not claiming that The Ellington is not currently a safe place for women. The phenomenal current program director of this venue is a woman who is part of the LGBTIQ+ community and who promotes and supports non-male content and performers – hence why she put this show on.

This was the first run Drag & Drag has ever had. There were some clunky transitions, a need for editing to tighten up the script and space for a little more nuance, but to be honest it was also quite interesting see this work in such a raw state.

All performers gave us light, shade, comedy, tragedy and also gave of themselves by contrasting the actions of their heroes with their experiences with the men in their lives.

I would loved to have seen a more intersectional range of voices (across age, culture etc) and it would be interesting to see how this show could go even further that just presenting research and exploring the emotional response it creates. With a little finessing, this could be a truly great show.

Take the women AND men AND non-binary folks in your life to see Drag & Drag. Start conversations and dive headfirst into the grey and complicated.

Only one more chance to see this show on Sunday 2nd Feb tickets can be found Fringe World

I wish to acknowledge that this show was performed on Wadjuk Noongar land and that sovereignty was never ceded.

Bella Broadway (she/her/hers) By day Bella is consumed by the desire to help create diverse, inclusive, suicide safer and mentally healthy communities. By night she can be found scouring Fringe World in search of weird and wonderful burlesque, circus, theatre and anything sparkly that challenges the status quo.

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