AN AUDIENCE WITH GORGEOUS GEORGE
Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 25th July, 2015
Alex Brockie’s new one-man show is a biography of a famous American wrestler who was, we are told, one of the first big stars of television and a trailblazer when it came to promoting a camp sensibility to a mainstream audience. I had never heard of George Wagner before I was invited to review the performance, so it was a steep learning curve for me.
Brockie struts on in a feather-trimmed robe with the initials GG glittering on the back. He sports a wig of tight, golden curls and his nose is high in the air. Referring to us as ‘peasants’ he tells us the origins of this haughty, effeminate persona, and the story of the man behind the act. Wagner was a Texan boy and so his slow, Southern drawl dictates the pace of the narration – which can both aid and hinder the timing of some of the punchlines. The script is peppered with one-liners and barbs and Brockie structures the rags-to-riches story around a couple of key symbols: his dying mother’s handkerchief, his best friend’s distinctive knock at the door. The story itself is typical of its kind: poor boy rises to fame and untold wealth, the trappings of which bring turmoil to his personal life: drink, drugs, divorce… but what keeps us in a full nelson is Brockie’s hypnotic delivery. He drops in and out of supporting characters, using mime and physicality to enhance the storytelling. Well-placed blasts of music denote passage of time and change of location economically and effectively.
It makes you want to find out more about Gorgeous George – particularly how he met his demise, which is something the show doesn’t tell us. Brockie bows out with a twinkle in his eye – a couple of minutes more would round the story off and deliver an emotional punch.
The play avoids wrestling clichés and Brockie cuts a charming stage presence, mastering his material in a nuanced and skilful performance. He has a hold on us, to be sure, but the show needs a more impactful ending to deliver a knockout (wrong sport, I know).