The climate crisis and drag cabaret make for an unexpected pairing in Relish Theatre’s Acid’s Reign at VAULT Festival
“I was producing fluids since before you were born”
James McDermott’s Acid’s Reign makes a fascinating case about about how the instability that the climate crisis will cause civilisation may well impact LGBTQ+ communities disproportionately, the rights for marginalised people the first to go in times of crisis. That he has wrapped this thesis in a splashy drag cabaret loosely based on A Christmas Carol is a bold choice and one which doesn’t quite always balance its messaging with its merriment.
Mother Nature’s drag club is under threat from a cheeky young upstart, tycoon Alex Acid who wants to knock it down to build a gay leisure resort that will ruin the local environment. How best to teach them a lesson? Well, by letting Sea, Land and Air read them for filth for their ignorance and complacency around environmental responsibility, with a little (rewritten) help from the likes of P!nk, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson and Scissor Sisters.
There’s always a place for serious subjects to be presented in a manner that doesn’t take them too seriously. And as Acid is admonished entertainingly about oil slicks (‘Filthy/Gorgeous’), rising sea levels (‘Get The Party Started’) and air pollution (‘In The Air Tonight’), there’s gentle but insistent reminders to us all about being better queer citizens. There’s also a good deal of audience ribbing, crude (oil) humour, corpsing, all the ingredients for a fab drag cab night out.
At the same time, there’s a few details that don’t quite click as well. A sometimes muddy sound design swallows up too many of the carefully rewritten lyrics, lip-sync sequences feel way too ramshackle and there’s a question around whether the dramatic stakes should indeed be a bit higher, given the consequences to the queer community and beyond being warned here. Part of me wonders if a full-on musical theatre treatment as opposed to cabaret might be better suited.
Still, performance levels are pitched just right here. Son of a Tutu’s Mother Nature is hardworking ‘Mother’ personified, Scarlett Harlett has real stage presence as Sea and Jamie Fuxx as Land delivers drag king vocals to die for on a deeply seductive ‘Ain’t No Other Man’ and a gorgeous acoustic take on ‘It’s Raining Men’. And as Alex Acid, Joshua Oakes-Rogers is an appealing central figure, moving from brattishness to believer and hopefully carrying all audience members with them.