Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, Saturday 26th March 2022
Jonathan Larkin’s new play snaps, crackles and pops with Scouse humour, in the best show set in the toilets of a Liverpool nightclub since Willy Russell’s Stags & Hens. We meet drag queen Cherry Brandy (Mickey Jones) as she receives an award for being an icon on Merseyside. This matinee audience takes a bit of warming up but Jones soon wins us over. Cherry is joined by her bezzie mate, Helen Handjob (Mariah Louca), and their acerbic sniping is overheard by curly-haired twink Pearl Reckless (Stefan Race) and so queers across the generations meet and bicker, and it’s glorious, the one-liners zinging and stinging, and the vocabulary enough to make the editor of Viz magazine blush.
But the darkness of reality soon impinges, as young Pearl returns bearing injuries from a homophobic attack. As Heidi observes, “it’s their world, we’re just unwelcome guests in it”. Humour is both a weapon and a shield but there can’t be a queer person in existence who hasn’t suffered to some extent abuse at the hands of straight people, and we carry with us everywhere the fear that we could be set upon at any given moment. Will the rowdy group of lads on the train turn their attention to us? Will we get yelled at by a passing motorist? And even if the attack doesn’t come on this occasion, the fear remains. We got lucky. This time. And all the rainbow flags in the world and corporate sponsorship of Pride won’t take the fear away.
The second act takes place in Cherry’s home and we enter farcical sitcom territory. Cherry has brought home some trade, in the lovely shape of Mo, played by George Jones (nice arse!). While Mo sleeps it off face down on the sofa, Pearl arrives, direct from a second homophobic assault. At first, Cherry is as scathing as ever but gradually the pair come to an understanding, while Cherry’s lifelong friendship with Helen runs aground. Mo meanwhile wakes up and panics that his straight friends, his girlfriend and his family will find out about his secret proclivities. Cherry, of course, puts him in his place.
Mickey Jones does a bang-up job as the bitter drag queen with an acidic tongue. Mariah Louca makes an excellent fist of Helen Handjob, coming across as more grounded than Cherry. Stefan Race is an absolute gem as Pearl, brazen yet vulnerable, and there is excellent support from George Jones’s Mo and other roles.
James Baker’s direction navigates the mood swings and sharp about-faces of the script with aplomb, getting the laughs in all the right places while allowing the dramatic tension to emerge and to breathe.
The play covers a lot of ground in its long, dark night of the arsehole, and while it is indelibly Liverpool-based, threaded with local references and the natural wit of the natives, the issues easily translate to anywhere and everywhere. Ultimately it’s uplifting and a bracing reminder that we need to ditch the in-fighting and stick together in the face of rising opposition from dickheads within the straight community.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆