As the Ladyboys left the stage in a flurry of flashing feathers I questioned whether I may have accidentally taken some kind of hallucinogen. How else does one explain two hours of queer gender bending, light bondage, adult babies and disturbingly grotesque giant horny pigs? The Ladyboys of Bangkok embrace the disturbing and subversive nature of carnival in a performance that moves through pop cultural references like an MTV show on speed. Which, I suppose, is what is expected of a production entitled Carnival Queens.
The varying degrees of womanliness on display are certainly something to marvel at, and it’s difficult to contain exclamations remarking upon the waist or cleavage of some of the girls. This alone seemed to be enough for the table of birthday celebrating young men behind me, but I was looking for something more. I live in Brighton in the 21st Century; gender bending is nothing new. I was looking for something resembling talent, and on the whole I didn’t find it.
The girls paraded through Lady GaGa, Britney Spears and numerous other pop numbers at high volume but parading is all it was. There was minimal dancing ability amongst the cast, and the miming to the numbers was cringe worthy. However, the songs selected are perfect if you’re ready for sing-a-long and even dance-a-long, and some of the performances are cleverly constructed.
The nineties hit Barbie Girl performed by a cast member dressed as a woman on one side, a man on the other, was amusing to watch. But huge praise should be given to one of the guest stars – a man who performed an immensely impressive pole routine. This was a much-needed interlude to the barrage of pop and the show as a whole could benefit from more such calmer interjections.
A couple of uncomfortable comedy skits were included; one featuring an abusive and negligent father, another the infamous thong wearing, nipple-bearing, pig. Discomfort is part of the carnival tradition, but these scenes sat oddly with the rest of the camp and glitzy show and should perhaps be pushed further if they’re to be there at all.
Carnival Queens is a parade through sexuality, sea sawing between camp flamboyance and disturbing subversion reminiscent of a Victorian freak show. Like one of the lesser jokes – a painful school lesson on erectile dysfunction with leaning tower of Pisa diagrams – the show for me failed to perform as well as it could. However, the dancing and cheering audience members around me seemed to get what they wanted. My advice; go with a large group, be prepared to camp it up on stage and absolutely don’t go sober.
Originally written for and published on Broadway Baby