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Review: One Night Only

Tue 11 Feb 2014 In: Performance View at Wayback View at NDHA

One Night Only The Bluestone Room, 11 February Starring Buckwheat, Bertha, Tess Tickle and Venus Mantrapp (An Auckland Pride Festival 2014 event) One Night Only is a show based on transitions and tonight three plus one drag performers took a rapt Auckland Pride Festival 2014 audience through their personal, professional, drag, cultural and historical journey of change and progress. At it's most basic it was three drag queens quietly getting their makeup and glad rags on, a bit of sisterly chat, a few secrets revealed and a few numbers to finish with a bang. But it was so, so much more than that. It speaks volumes about the creativity, professionalism and intelligent wit of Edward Cowley (Buckwheat), Harold Samu (Bertha) and Anthony Hotere (Tess Tickle) that they effortlessly guided us through their lives, our glbti communities' development and some of our own personal experiences. The most obvious transition was from three chaps to three goddesses of glamour, handled without artifice, with unflinching honesty and most importantly, with grace. As the audience members arrived the three three performers were preparing their drag personae in a make-believe dressing room. They ignored us and got on with applying foundation, makeup, lashes and glitter. Then, with perfectly judged timing, just as Harold, Edward and Anthony started to be visually replaced by Bertha, Buckwheat and Tess, they embraced us and three performers and several hundred people became a kind of family. Mostly they were the boys still, chatting, sparring, taking cues from the audience and relentlessly progressing from men to drag artistes. The chat was good humoured and witty, warm and with the free and easy interplay that comes from the shared company of three men who love each others' company, who have grown up together in more ways than one. In the words of Harold/Bertha it was an evening to "celebrate our sisterhood." We learned Buckwheat's last name and where each drag character's name came from. How Harold came from a Mormon Samoan family and how Bertha was born on the stage of the Staircase nightclub in its Fort Street incarnation, a robust and plus-sized reaction to "all the pretty, skinny little drag names." Bertha the Beast with a heart of gold. We learned of Tess's sojourn in Sydney where she was in demand as the drag scene's "token darkie." And where the man bits go. And make-up tips. In a frank and serious moment Edward/Buckwheat told us the secrets of truly excellent drag: Learn to sew and go to makeup classes; be on time and be professional; develop your look and personality, learn your craft. No wonder he's in demand as a motivational speaker. The wisecracks were sassy and sharp but never wounding. The humour was warm and embracing. There were no victims, no one was pilloried or denigrated, not even the most ardent opponents of the freedom of glbti people to be ourselves. As good as Edward/Buckwheat and Anthony/Tess are, it was the temporary return of Bertha from a decade long Aussie sabbatical which provided the heart and some of the soul of tonight's show. Memories of the seventies and eighties came pouring forth, names, nights and places. "Things have changed since 20, 30 years ago," and our communities have been shaped by criminality, law reform the HIV/AIDS crisis, the fight for legal equality. Through it all these polished performers have been observers as well as performers. From encouraging nervous kids heading up the staircase for the first time to the Marae in the Sky to marching down queen street for our rights, these divas have truly walked the walk. And somewhere amongst all the reality and artifice our respect for them tonight transitioned from respect to admiration to - remarkably - adulation. As they cast aside their maleness and powered into a spectacular series of dazzling stage numbers, the audience of community stalwarts, gay A-listers, a few stunned straights and a whole heap of everyday glbti folk were enthralled and entranced. With flashing sequins, flashier smiles, perfectly judged performances to tracks ranging from 60s girl groups to Whitney-esque anthems, and the inevitable and perfect Somewhere Over The Rainbow, the show to end the show was bravura display of drag magnificence. Bertha dancing herself through passion, past frenzy and into exhaustion. Tess and guest Venus elegant, crisp, and sizzlingly sly. And Buckwheat the stellar goddess of unattainable yet girl next door glam. Singly and together they were absolutely unbeatable. And through it all, the make-up chat session and the final show, there was respect, insight, togetherness, a shared history, an acceptance that the world is ever-changing and the reassurance that sisterhood or brotherhood or any kind of togetherhood is everlasting. - Jay Bennie Jay Bennie - 11th February 2014    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Tuesday, 11th February 2014 - 11:26pm

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