Review: Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster in A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic
Review: The beautifully bittersweet My Night With Reg at the Donmar Warehouse

Review: Drag King Richard III, Riverside Studios

Drag King Richard III (photo by Jamie Scott-Smith) 7
Bonnie Adair and Anne Zander in Drag King Richard III, Riverside Studios. Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith

This play is full of the unexpected. I didn't expect it to be quite so serious - the title led me to think of something completely different and I didn't expect to be cowering behind the fourth wall having been singled out in a dance scene by one of the actors.

It is, on the whole, a curious piece that is at times devastating in it observations about the life of lesbian and transgender friends and at other times frustrating in its execution.

Writer Terri Power draws inspiration from the words of Shakespeare's Richard III for the character Laurie/Laurence (Anne Zander) who has always fancied girls but feels trapped in her female form.  Richard's description of his outward appearance becomes a reflection of how Laurie feels about herself and how she is perceived by society. Later when Richard's seduction of Anne is re-enacted the angrily delivered description of the King as a "foul deformity" carries a different weight.

These occasional Richard scenes are mingled with the story of Laurie's friendship with lesbian La Femme (Bonnie Adair) through high school until a misunderstanding sets them on different paths. They return to each other later but La Femme struggles with Laurie's decision to have a sex change.

And this is where the play is at its best. Laurie/Lawrence's struggle with her/his identity and the impact the sex change has on the friendship is both moving and poignant.

Where it struggles a little is in trying to cover broader ground. At the beginning La Femme talks about wearing "Fem-drag" and the attention she receives compared to her usual masculine, natural, un-preened looks which felt like an issue that could have been explored more deeply.

Likewise there are some biting sequences about the girls' parents reactions when they come out - a hint of the prejudice encountered by the LGBT community pre-gay rights - but it feels like an aside.

The dance sequence seems to represent some deep inner feeling in Laurie/Lawrence but I'm not entirely sure what or maybe I was too occupied being intimidated by Anne Zander thrusting her crotch at me. The power of the piece is in the story, the exchanges and experiences of the characters and I don't think the visual motifs of masculinity such as the dance and occasional appearance of a dildo are really necessary to make the point.

Drag King Richard III feels a little muffled by its packaging at times but when it is unwrapped, it is an interesting piece of theatre. It runs at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith until Sunday Aug 3.