Review: Wasteman, VAULT Festival

Joe Leather’s Wasteman is a brilliant one-person show about a drag queen binman at the VAULT Festival

“One man’s treasure is another man’s trash”

Family folklore has it that I wanted to be a binman but my big sister intervened to tell me I was going to university. I may have been kneehigh to a grasshopper at the time but clearly the hi-vis vests and big trucks had made their impact. The choice for writer/performer Joe Leather wasn’t quite the same. Due to start work in a jewellers, lockdown royally fucked that up and so with severely straitened options, a refuse collector proved a much more reliable option. They’re also a drag queen on the side.

With such life experience to hand, a one-person show was always in the offing and Wasteman is no disappointment. A highly amusing monologue that traces the journey of a young Northern lad who uses the inspiration of a well-timed break-up to enter a drag contest, it plays on the juxtaposition of his day job as a refuse collector and also delves back into his personal history to explore how queer lives are shaped so significantly by experience, and not always positive ones at that.

Leather possesses a hugely appealing stage presence and as his character draws so clearly from personal experience, a profound authenticity sings out. There’s also something refreshing about seeing some of the vulnerabilities behind the brashness of a drag persona. Director Kat Bond keeps Leather in full warpaint throughout, even as sequinned gowns are replaced with hi-vis vests and work gear, a constant reminder of the duelling identities that queer people need to wrangle in different aspects of their lives.

Unafraid to go deeply personal, Wasteman is full of the little details that you may or may not recognise personally, but you know damn well that it is lived experience. As it touches on queer trauma, it does so in a manner that is sensitive as well as compelling and it is frequently belly-achingly funny. I’ll always have affection for a fellow North-Western voice but Leather has an irresistible warmth that even a shakshuka-loving Southerner couldn’t deny. A 4.30am alarm though? Never for me!

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Corinne Cumming
Wasteman is booking at the VAULT Festival until 16th February

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