This adaptation of Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s autobiography by writer/performer Tom Stuart is in turns sympathetic and shocking. In director Nick Bagnall’s hands, it is a spectacle, a kind of glittery car wreck we can’t look away from even though there are times we want to.
Tom Stuart delivers a tour de force performance.
Resplendent in her teal-blue kimono, perfect make-up and 60s sex kitten blonde hair, her outrageously long legs and tall heels, Aquadisiac is the type of drag queen that makes me feel inferior in my femininity – at least to begin with. As she invites us into her life, her flaws and vulnerability are soon apparent. As she removes her robe and reveals herself frocked-up and tucked-in a pink sparkling gown with ‘high concept’ breasts - globes containing water and a goldfish - she tells us “a drag queen doesn’t exist without an audience”.
Aquadisiac (AKA Josh) seems to lead a glamorous life on the surface but it’s rapidly spinning out of control. The story unfolds through confessional monologues and narrative scenes in which Stuart plays multiple characters and several lip-synched numbers. Many of the scenes are short, crashing into the next with a change of lights and sound which has an effect of momentarily disorienting the audience. This mirrors what Aquadisiac is experiencing, as he has begun having blackouts and finding himself in dangerous situations, because of his drinking problem. Most dangerous of all, however, is his relationship with boyfriend Jack, a male escort specialising in BDSM, who in turn has a dangerous relationship with crack cocaine.
Stuart’s characterisation of Josh/Aquadisiac is endearing and we are on his side right through. Beneath Josh’s layers of pretence – his desperation to be what people want him to be – there’s something very real about him that we can identify with. It’s clearly a physically and emotionally challenging piece for a performer.
Ti Green’s set is brutal in its simplicity, while the angled lines of lights studding the wall and stage are off-kilter, almost creating an optical illusion. There’s a chair for Aquadisiac to sit on, a pillar for her to lean on, a wall for her to pass out against and a cabinet for her to procure vodka from - all never getting in the way of the story.
As Aquadisiac says, “you know how it’s going to end from the beginning”. At 75 minutes, it’s longer than a typical Fringe show - the final act in particular could be tightened. Otherwise, aside from a few accent slips, Stuart delivers a tour de force performance.