National Theatre, London – until 7 July 2017
Guest reviewer: Jessica Harris-King
As part of National Theatre’s Queer Theatre month, a rehearsed reading of Tarrell Alvin-McCraney’s, Wig Out was performed in the Lyttleton Theatre. Having attended on the strength of being a huge fan of Tarrell’s oscar-winning film Moonlight, I was unaware of what to expect and ultimately more than pleasantly surprised. The play centres around the house ball culture mostly based in the US, and takes place over the course of 24 hours. We follow the journey of the House of Light *snaps* as they get ready for a ball thrown by their rivals, House of Diabolique.
The residents of the House of Light include the colourful characters of ‘mother’ Rey-Rey (Tarrell Alvin-McCraney), ‘father’ Lucian (Ukweli Roach) daughters, Venus, gay drag queen (Craig Stein), Ms Nina/Wilson (Kadiff Kirwan), a gay person who presents as feminine and identifies as gender non-conforming, Deity (Kobna Holbrook-Smith) a gay man, who is Venus’ love interest and DJ to the House of Light and the three fates (Alexia Khadime, Abiona Omonua and Cat Simmons), a trio of women who often act as narrators for the show, telling the story through humour and singing throughout.
The opening line of the show, as said by Venus “By the time this play makes its way to you, most of the language will have been antiquated” sets the tone of the piece as time (or lack of it) is very much a theme in the piece. It’s presented obviously to us through the fact that the house only has until midnight to prepare for the ball, but also more subtly later in the show, as Rey-Rey’s struggle as an aging member of her house is clearly seen to be getting to her.
The theme of gender is also presented to us when we, along with Nina, meet Eric (Tunji Kasim) a gay man who although likes Nina, is uncomfortable with her presenting as feminine, resulting in her going as ‘Wilson’ during their time together. Kirwan’s performance is truly one of the highlights of the show and his on-stage presence is mesmerising, he brings both equal parts humour and vulnerability to the role, making Ms. Nina one of the stand-out characters of the show.
Venus comes a close second, especially during the second act when she and Deity do a hilarious lip-sync to a Beyonce and Jay-Z song. Craig Stein and Kobna Holbrook-Smith have great chemistry and in this scene it really shows. Throughout the piece, there a various modern pop culture references, reminding us of the fact that the culture being portrayed on stage and the issues, are happening right now in the present day. Jonjo O’Neill and Tom Rhys-Harries also perform expertly as, House of Light rivals, Serena and Loki, their performances in the second act being particularly entertaining.
Overall this performance was a treat to watch and one can only imagine how incredible it would have been, seeing it in all its glory.