What an amazingly immersive performance this expertly written play by Laura Lees was!
Upon entering the theatre you immediately felt like you were entering a party scene at the 80s iconic bar – The Masquerade aka The Mazzie. Shots upon entrance as ‘the first drink is always on the house’ made you feel that everyone was welcome to this special party, at a special venue for a special night out, regardless of the day of the week. When this line was later reiterated during one of the many club scenes, it underpinned that everyone- no matter who you really were- felt totally welcome! The immersive experience continued when you entered the bar to be greeted by various drag queens and an electric atmosphere playing 80s music.
This cyclical play cleverly linked the epilogue as the prologue taking us back in time to the significance of the Masquerade club during the 80s. This was a time of ignorance, hostile humiliation and fear within the LGBTQ+ community where if you dared to be different, then heavy prices emotionally, mentally and sadly, often physically were paid. I say community, however during this period fear disabled any community spirit as ostracisation was ultimately the goal.
The roles of Tony (Joe Owen) and Mike (Jamie Peacock) were superbly acted from the minute their characters entered the play until they left, taking you into the struggles that each had and their vulnerabilities.Both portrayals of the characters were believable to the audience which had you rejoicing with them, excited for them and left you in tears during their desperately sad times.Jamie Peacock also needs to be commended for some impressive and eye watering dance moves.
Michael Bailey delivered a phenomenal performance as Stuart/Judy. His portrayal of the juxtaposed emotions of living his true life compared to a life with fear and condemnation was outstanding. The larger than life, confident Judy allowed him to be free and without constraint. Sadness was personified not through the beating he took within the club when narrow minded people decided to destroy the sanctuary of dwellers but rather, from the fact that he chose to conform to a hetrosexual life and living a lie to not only his girlfriend but more importantly, himself was particularly poignant.
Lees’ original Maquerade play in 2019 focused more on the negative and utterly downbeat aspects of the characters lives during this volatile period however, the revamped and reprised version provided significant contrast, particularly with the mostly comedic character performances of Norma/Pauline (Catherine Rice) and Frank/Billy (Neil MacDonald). Via these actors outstanding performances the audience’s maternal/paternal sides came to the forefront wanting to envelop and protect against the abhorrently named term for an the abhorrent action of ‘gay bashing’ that was prevalent during this times. This atrocity was simply perpetuated by the media who delighted in creating a fear frenzy with sensational headlines such as: ‘a deserved gay virus’ and ‘Britain Threatened by Gay Virus!’ Elvis (Joey Colasante) was not only a victim of this but with the double whammy of being shunned by his family even upon his deathbed. Norma and Frank became his surrogate family endearing them to the audience even further.
The direction and production of the show was also outstanding. It didn’t need elaborate sets and props as no gimmicks were necessary.
Overall this was a 9/10 performance only live singing from the characters could have improved this score.