Last time I looked, drag was a minority sport in gay bars, performed by men in frocks belting out mediocre ballads, lip-synching to pop songs, and generally being misogynistic. In those days, the humour derived from being bitchy, or foul-mouthed. And I hated it. But that was then. Welcome to the 21st century. Welcome to Cinebra: “cinema, but with a bra, cause they’re just as relevant and supportive.”
These are broad, but somehow believable, characters with great lines who have a story to tell.
Glenda and Rita is a movie-themed drag act with a difference and it turns old-school drag on its head. These performers, Alexander Joseph and Ro Robertson, consummately inhabit their characters Glenda Swing and Rita Herringbone. Glenda comes from the wrong side of the tracks, and delivers her lines in a New York accent that sounds like Tony Curtis crossed with Top Cat. Her ‘mannishness’ does not fail to bring Bette Davis to mind. Rita is from a wealthy Jewish family, and is now a superannuated ingenue. There is at least a nod to an early Monroe here, especially when Rita plays her ukulele.
Glenda and Rita were black and white film stars in the 1940s but have had no work since the invention of Technicolor. Clever costume choices, grey and white make-up, and lighting effects combine to give the illusion that they are indeed black and white as they stand on the stage before us. Theirs is a sad story of gradual oblivion. Glenda, now an alcoholic, still believes she is famous (think Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard). Rita has come to terms with the fading of her star. But they face the world together, as friends.
The show consists of patter, songs and vignette sketches that tell their life-story. It has more in common with musical theatre than cabaret, or even drag. These are broad, but somehow believable, characters with great lines who have a story to tell. The humour is often subtle and nuanced, and it doesn’t matter a bit if you know nothing about black and white Hollywood cinema. The songs, too, are lyrically clever, bejewelled with witty throwaways.
Best of all, the performers clearly enjoy working together and redefining the art, and purpose, of female impersonation. This is a worthy, if thoroughly different, companion to their “History Of Horror”. The audience went wild for it.