Saturday 20 July 2019

Once Upon A Drag Storytime - Theatre Review

What: Once Upon A Drag Storytime
When: 13 July 2019
Where: Footscray Community Arts Centre Theatre
Created and performed by: Po Po Mo Co
The Blokes
Good friends of Hares and Hyenas book shop, Po Po Mo Co decided to create a show for children for this school holiday period and thus was born Once Upon A Drag Storytime, presented at FCAC. Featuring the reading of three current popular books for toddlers, this queer performance troupe brought queer storytelling to life on stage.

Po Po Mo Co is a short-hand version of post post modern company. If post-modernism is anything goes, then post post modernism is anything goes with a queer bent and a lot of fun for Po Po Mo Co who describe their style as neo-vaudevillian physical theatre.

One set of regular characters in this troupe are The Blokes. Gavin, Keith and Mark make regular appearances on the cabaret circuit. Decked out in lurid 80's male drag, this comedy trio have a ball and (surprisingly) have a good sense of rhythm which they always put on show. I always love their Fosse-esque routines which are full of (?) and blokey bravado.

In Once Upon A Drag Storytime The Blokes have decided to read their three favourite story books and beef them up with some song, dance, and puppetry. The books include Feminist Baby by Loryn Brantz, Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love, King And King by Linda de Haan.

It is at this point we all can agree I was not the target audience for this show - by many decades in fact - but luckily for me the room was filled with little humans from ages 0 and up and I got to watch them laugh and squirm and dance along. They had a great time and The Blokes interacted well with them.

I am guessing if I were a kid I would say this show was 10 hundred out of 10. As an adult, however, I have my reservations. One of my biggest issues (and one which will be very controversial) is I didn't like the first two books.

I have had the opportunity to read many kids books in my life and I do not think Feminist Baby or Julian Is A Mermaid are very well written although I do like their ideas. I couldn't figure out what it was that made this baby a feminist (although I believe there is a range of Feminist Baby comics and books which probably exemplify feminism better) and Julian Is A Mermaid is all pictures and very little story. I really did enjoy King And King though.

After the first book Po Po Mo Co indulge is some black theatre puppetry and three puppet babies mime along to Joan Jett's Bad Reputation. This was my first moment of concern. I found myself wondering about the age appropriateness of the lyrics - and also I wondered about whether the pop references were too old for this audience.

A magical fish light puppet made it's way across stage during Julian and it livened up the room as pages lacking dialogue where flicked past. Obviously the books were too small to be seen by the entire audience, but the puppet walked past the young'uns on the cushions in front and got them excited and invited interaction which was great.

Kieth and Mark acted out King And King and even threw in a Dirty Dancing lift but again, I found myself wondering if that reference is just to old. This was one of the quietest moments for the kids in the audience and I suspect it is because they didn't really understand what was going on.

It was the end of Once Upon A Drag Storytime which really shocked me and had me questioning the age appropriateness of the show though. The show culminates with the appearance of burlesque star Rosy Cheeks. She sings an entire song but let me just point out her lips where not properly placed and I just don't know what this act was meant to be telling the children. It is one thing to familiarise them with queerness, it is a whole other thing to sexualise the proceedings.

Luckily the kids seemed to just recognise a bare bum and laughed. Most of the parents laughed along too - obviously it was a sympathetic audience - but one or two dads in particularl appeared to be struggling to find the funny side in the moment. Perhaps if it was a quicker appearance I would have laughed to but to be honest, it really did feel like the song lasted forever and those lips needed to be a little bit higher. This is all I have to say about that...

I love the ideas behind Once Upon A Drag Storytime, and queer books needs to be included in the general reading material of the entire population. I think on this occassion though, Po Po Mo Co should have tempered their adult aesthetics a bit and they probably need to update their cultural references for an audience this young.

2 Stars

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