Camden Fringe Festival 2021

REVIEW: Horseplay present Bareback, Museum of Comedy, Camden Fringe

This was an absolutely dizzying show – witty, fabulous, raw and honest, but also in danger, on occasion, of collapsing under the weight of its own creativity, like a soufflé made of raw energy.

Horseplay – aka Derek Mitchell & Kathy Maniura – is about performance, and so can be excused some of its more outlandishly meta conceits. 

Both Mitchell and Maniura are dressed in flesh coloured body suits – naked and vulnerable – and over the course of an hour cover this bare base with character and wigs aplenty, and though there are more costume changes than at a Mariah Carey lookalike contest, the pace of the show never dips.

The elevator pitch is, at least in my own head, The Good Place meets Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask. A series of characters including Mitchell’s catty celebrity sex therapist and Maniura’s failed actress find themselves in the afterlife, as run by a frustrated and lonely Scandinavian women with a serious addiction to correction fluid.

Perhaps my favourite character is one we never see on stage – the failed actress’ famous mother, who would turn up to her daughter’s shows specifically to heckle, but there are plenty to choose from here.

We have a travelling new age sex toy whittler, Chaucer’s notoriously horny Wife of Bath boasting about her many divorces and living past thirty, a gay son who tries to hide his dirty secret of wanting to be an astronaut, and an anus and a vagina whose job is to help run the post-life simulations, but wouldn’t they be happier in a world where miming to the Eurythmics isn’t a capital crime?

Like I said, it’s dizzying – too dizzying at times. But then, as one character puts it, as a harsh entreaty to keep on performing: “You can take off your wig when you’re dead”.

Things get so convoluted they stop the show, come out of character, and talk about coming out and their first sexual experiences respectively. It’s quite an abrupt change of pace, and while I absolutely appreciate the intention behind it – here, the performance is truly over, and honesty is as bare as those flesh suits – it doesn’t quite work. It is almost a relief when they return to character to destroy heaven with some banged out Cher. And after all, isn’t that what she would have wanted?

There are songs. There are wigs. There is vulnerability and there are excellent jokes. I love these pair of queers, figuring out everything they can in the safest space to do it: the stage.

And perhaps the occasionally confusing narrative is part of the point. We’re all performing, and whomst among us, truly, can claim with certainty to know what we’re doing?

Rating: **** out of *****

Bareback is at the Museum of Comedy as part of the Camden Fringe on 27th August 2021. Tickets here.

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