Send in the Clowns – A drag celebration of Stephen Sondheim
The Old Joint Stock – Birmingham
21 January 2022
Reviewer – David Gray & Paul Gray
At the start of the evening our host, Fatt Butcher, stunningly attired in a flounced, yellow bolero jacket, red leather hat, body harness and, what can best be described as midnight-blue, empire-line, ankle-length jodhpurs, announced that, due to COVID, one or two cast members and the pianist, Gregor Reid, would not be able to take part in the performance. The show had been reworked at short notice but would go on.
Fortunately, this was a drag show, and the beating heart of drag is improvisation and spontaneity, so the energetic cast was able to mask at least some of the problems caused by this body blow behind humour, anarchic campery and bantering engagement with a receptive, enthusiastic and pretty juiced-up audience.
Where one might have expected the loss of their accompanist to have had the most devastating impact – the live-sung numbers – main vocal performers, Alanna Boden and Fatt, adapted to the challenges of singing against backing tracks with professionalism and impressive musicality. They both delivered committed, heartfelt and vocally assured renditions of some of Sondheim’s most demanding numbers. Indeed, Fatt’s performance of Being Alive from Company at the end of the first half was quite breath-taking.
The lip-synced elements of show were less convincing. Surprisingly, as these numbers were unaffected by the loss of the accompanist. Blü Romantic prefaced the performance of There Are Giants in the Sky from Into the Woods by admitting that s/he didn’t really know the words and then proceeded to impersonate a dying goldfish for the next two and a half minutes. Dahliah Rivers was more assured in two of the Witch’s numbers from this same show, but didn’t always seem fully in command of the material.
The entertainment was clearly enjoyed by cast and audience alike and I take my hat off to all the performers for soldiering on under such difficult circumstances.