#2 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings
Where one night can leave you legendary
Or a subsidiary”
The world has changed just a little in the decade or so since Tarell Alvin McCraney wrote Wig Out. McCraney is now an Oscar-winning writer after the phenomenal success of Moonlight (based on one of his unproduced plays) and RuPaul has dragged drag into the mainstream by its charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. So to see the play now is an entirely different prospect than its 2008 production at the Royal Court and an interesting example of how cultural touchstones shift.
Wig Out feels intimately connected to Paris Is Burning (if you’ve not seen it, to Netflix with you now) in its focus on ball culture in the black and Latino gay communities of New York and we get to see it fully turned out as the House of Light take on their rivals in the House of Diabolique. The ball scene is an unalloyed pleasure as outré performance follows outré performance (Craig Stein and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith took the honours for the night) and really make you want to see a fully fledged production.
The play as a whole did feel perhaps just a little insubstantial though. It throws in ideas of gender fluidity (a putative romance involves the gender non-conforming character), misogyny within the gay community, the passing-on of legacies, but none of them felt particularly thoroughly explored – I wonder how much of that came from the staging as opposed to the writing though. Tunji Kasim and Kadiff Kirwan’s couple-in-the-making really stood out, Ukweli Roach is possibly the handsomest guy alive even when he’s being a rotter, and Alexia Khadime, Abiona Omonua and Cat Simmons need to do everything together as their chemistry as the part-narrating part-performing Fates was fierce as hell.
Cast for the 2008 Royal Court production directed by Dominic Cooke