Following on from the success of last year’s XXXmas Carol, producer Peter Darney returns to the WMC with a new Christmas cabaret production. Sam Patterson went along to the Weston Studio to see The Lion, The B!tch and the Wardrobe.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, meaning it’s time for drag queen Polly Amorous to take over the Weston Studio once more. Following the success of last year’s XXXmas Carol, this year rising Cardiff starlet Polly and her team take us on a dirty, daring, and dragalicious journey through the wardrobe and into the classic world of Narnia.
Retelling CS Lewis’ beloved novel for a modern audience, we’re treated to a whole host of acts from the diverse and multi-talented cast, each of whom add their own unique flair and talents to what culminates in a riotously funny evening of fabulosity.
Given that this show is clearly no place for children, we skip Peter, Susan, and whatever the other kids’ names are and instead follow Polly, a young drag queen who tumbles through the wardrobe of her dressing room into a strange new world. The thread that binds the show together, Polly has a real command of the stage and utilises her natural timing and wit to keep the audience with her, even through some minor hiccups. Her charm and down-to-earth manner keep us rooting for and laughing with her as she battles the White Witch, played by whip-cracking, aerial-strap-donning circus performer extraordinaire that is Bunmi Odumosu. Because when one circus apparatus just simply is not enough, you can rely on Odumosu to put her tremendous talents to use to bring out another and combine the two. Her stage presence is the exact kind that makes rooting for the baddie all the more delicious.
Along the way, Polly meets Mr Bumnus, played by Eric McGill who brings a whole new meaning to that famous lamppost as well as showing off his death-defying flying trapeze skills which left the audience gasping and roaring with applause. After being betrayed by Mr Bumnus (which leads to one of funniest scenes in the show), Polly needs to track down Asslan. No, not Aslan. Asslan. This is a drag show, people. Get with the programme!
Her journey sees Polly cross paths with a capitalist-swine incarnation of Santa who gives us Tory advice on how to stay warm this winter all while burlesquing her clothes off. Foo Foo LaBelle deserves credit here for pushing through noticeable tech issues here which impacted what was, save those, a fabulous, witty, and clever performance. Fortunately, her other performance as the White Witch’s wolf captain Maugrim, allows LaBelle to show off her sexy and surreal talents as the kind of woman who could make you forget about your wife. We also meet Asha Jane who gives us one of the highlights of the show: a magnificent, uplifting rendition of Feeling Good, joined onstage by other cast members in a wild love letter to spring and the triumph of good over evil.
Eventually, Polly, after many wacky trials and zany tribulations, finds herself face to face with Asslan, played by Rahim El Habachi, who treats us to sexy belly dancing and ballroom-style voguing. This camp hunk of lion brings unapologetically queer fierceness to the stage throughout. Tying the whole show together is Felix Sürbe, whose musical abilities lay the stage upon which the rest of cast perform. Though his acting style is perhaps a little more Noel Fielding than Noel Coward, Sürbe also captures Fielding’s goofy lovability and has the audience cheering for him whenever he takes a break from tickling the ivories to come up on stage.
Our players have clearly put a lot of work into this year’s Christmas show but what is perhaps most surprising is how much novelty is to be found here. From surfing on lampposts to a particularly gruesome incident with a balloon and a nose which will haunt you, The Lion, The B!tch and the Wardrobe manages to brings a fresh take on the Christmas cabaret. Paying homage to the Welsh roots and communities that bind our ensemble together, we’re taken on a psychedelic trip that not only has fantastic acts but also a message of hope and optimism, of lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down. It’s a powerful message and a much-needed one in our current circumstances.
Politics, as every lover of drag would know, is integral to the artform. The act of subverting gender is political in itself and Polly does not shy away from this. Whether it’s little one-liners dotted throughout the show or an entire number dedicated a Member of Parliament (a winning act for sure), this production does not shy away from standing up for LGBTQ+ rights, the rights of the working classes, and a call-to-arms against corruption. The sheer diversity of the cast itself is a statement itself whilst also an invitation to community and acceptance.
After two and a half hours of laughing, cheering, gasping, recoiling, wincing, and smiling, the audience ended the show by leaping to their feet to give our performers a well-deserved standing ovation. With so much grim news abound and the temperatures outside keeping us from doing anything with any joy out in the open, the Weston Studio at Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre provides the answer for that evening you want to spend with friends, partners, or loved ones: The Lion, The B!tch and the Wardrobe. Tickets are £15 and with that not only do you get a hilarious, provocative show, you also know that you are supported local artists in their endeavours to make their voices heard. And I think equality is a Christmas present we can all get behind.
The Lion, The B!tch and the Wardrobe plays at the WMC until 31st December. Tickets are still available.