Have we reached a point where Courtney Act needs no introduction? Beloved winner of this year’s Celebrity Big Brother and previous finalist on American juggernaut Ru Paul’s Drag Race, they have entered the conversation on gender, sexuality and self expression in a way that has captured the hearts and minds of millions across the globe. Existing fans will of course be ready for the pop references scattered throughout the set, but you don’t need to be familiar with Courtney (AKA Shane Jenek) as a TV personality to have a great time this evening.
A passionate advocate for individuality, self-expression and empowerment.
Upon reading that this show featured stripped-down songs, I originally had images of a single stool, a lonely spotlight and an acoustic guitar. Fear not, as we are instead transported straight into the boudoir, complete with Barbie-pink furniture and a cunningly-disguised electric keyboard for our live accompanist Brian Nash. It’s a narrow stage to work with, and the set does take a little bit of warming up, but by the third song Courtney is really hitting her stride. She’s totally at ease with her front-row banter, with an openness that makes her instantly likeable - it's great to see performers who are clearly enjoying the Festival just as much as we are in the audience.
At once both ravishingly burlesque and intimately conversational, the pacing of the evening is not that of your usual razzle-dazzle cabaret. Expect racy covers of Madonna and The Pussycat Dolls alongside an emotive duet between Courtney and Shane - the wonders of technology - which embraces the blurring of boundaries whilst demonstrating how much further we still have to go. This is what makes the night special for me; the musical numbers are of course enjoyable, but it was through playing with the idea of covers which we impose on ourselves that this show stands out. The underlying message here is a defiant shout of self-love and acceptance, a welcome reminder that only you can control who you want to be, and it’s a relief that this doesn’t feel heavy-handed or at the expense of the musicality of the show.
Those who came tonight for a pretty face and a beautiful voice have left with much more than they bargained for. As well as being an accomplished performer, Shane J/Courtney Act is a passionate advocate for individuality, self-expression and empowerment. An all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza is not what you will be getting here - and it’s all the better for it.