#5 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings
Last but by no means least in this queer season is the one play written by a straight person and perhaps the queerest of the lot. Mae West wrote The Drag in 1927 where its frankness about gay lives (and once again, drag ball culture!) scandalised its out-of-town Connecticut and New Jersey audiences so that it never made it to Broadway. But Polly Stenham has opted to revive it for this reading and to introduce it to a new (Alaska Thunderfuck-literate) crowd.
To be brutally honest, it isn’t the greatest play in the world, but what it does do is hold a fascinating mirror to early 20th century attitudes and how tolerance and intolerance existed side by side, then as now; the safe spaces gay men find in order to be their extravagantly true selves equally as timeless. And closet cases in marriages remain a sad truth, if not quite as dramatic as the son of a homophobic judge married to the daughter of a gay conversion therapist that we get here!
West revels in the scandal that the outing of her protagonist at one of his regular gay soirees causes, but she’s also sensitive to the realities that gay men – many of whom she was friends with, advocate for, employer of – faced in the world that scarce treated her much better. Stenham has a real ear for West’s caustic wit (Tom Edden definitely slaying here) and you can see a) why she picked the play and b) how she could well turn this into a full production worth seeing.