views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

In Capacity House
The Canal Café
15th August 2013

★★★☆☆

Miss Diagnosis

Photography supplied by Just an Act

With a drag act, you tend to know where you are from the word go. And sure enough, warm-up act Cosmic (Paul Lawrence-Thomas) burst onto stage with a high-energy performance, chatting to the audience and belting out familiar numbers like Liza Minnelli's Cabaret. With a thoroughly charismatic stage presence and an impressive set of pipes, Cosmic had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand, and geared them up for rude and raucous things to come.

And as Cosmic disappeared off-stage, a black-and-white video from Melanie Menard broadcast onto the back wall introduced Miss Diagnosis, a drag act with a touch of Holly Golightly glam about her. It's a little overlong but still, so far, so typical. However, what actually followed next was a rather nervous-looking Glaswegian bloke called Donald (Ken McLoone), quite clearly dressed as a man. When you see as many shows as we do, plots can get quite predictable, but we were not prepared for Donald. The contrast between the pre-show entertainment and the actual piece is marked, and a clever attempt to subvert the crowd's expectations.

Donald tells us - or at least, the space where we are, the fourth wall goes firmly back up after Cosmic runs off - about his childhood. This is accompanied by selected clips of his life to date, adding a greater understanding about who he is. Rather than making us laugh wildly, it's all rather bleak. Poor Donald hasn't exactly had it easy.

Eventually - and this is not until halfway through the show - Donald slowly begins to transform into his alter ego, Miss Diagnosis. But this still doesn't get funny - with a painted white face and large red lips drawn on, she has a very different appearance to Cosmic, and is almost the sad clown Pagliacci than a glitzy diva. There's nothing more upsetting than a clown who's frowning on the outside as well as on the in. Unfortunately, while director Tessa Hart hits the mark on many occasions, she fails to curb McLoone's excesses and in parts the piece feels rambly and unfocused, repeating the same idea. With a bit of script editing and polishing, though, it could go far.

As for the set, there are rails of dresses to each side of the stage, with a traditional dressing table and light up mirror to house left. But as well as the sparkle, the floor is cluttered with discarded shopping - including the very Scottish props of oatcakes and whisky - and as they say, tidy house, tidy mind. Untidy house? Something isn't quite right.

Despite the wigs and frocks, drag isn't actually the focus of In Capacity House. It's a play about a man with two distinct personalities which begin to meld to the point where reality feels out of reach. The protagonist may be a drag queen, but he could be anyone. McLoone takes a medical condition that's poorly understood, and a lifestyle that's equally misunderstood outside its own community, daring us to accept the character he's created and free her - or him - from the self-imposed prison.

In Capacity House is a production which tackles mental illness head on, and that's got to be commended. McLoone describes it as an alternative drag act and this certainly is as far away as you can get from the norm. It may not be the most uplifting piece, but it's refreshing.

In Capacity House was performed on 15th August 2013, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Warwick Avenue (Bakerloo)



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