Queer Acts Review: Castrati: An Electro Drag Opera. Seriously Hilarious & Hilariously Serious

Posted by Wayves volunteer 15/07/2016

By Hugo Dann

Queer Acts is having a very good year. I’ve seen three strong performances to date: The Cunning Linguist; Many Loves, and Castrati: An Electro Drag Opera.

Castrati is the collaborative creation of Theatre Outré’s performers Jay Whitehead, Katherine Zaborsky, Aaron Collier, and director Richie Wilcox. And is it ever Queer! Nothing short of a relentless, singing-dancing, full frontal, technicolour assault, replete with queer cultural references from Harry Hay’s Radical Faeries to hippy drag queens, the Coquettes and Lindsay Kemp from Bel Canto to The B52s and even Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Hovering over it all the is spirit of David Bowie circa the divine Ziggy and giving a fake onstage blow-job to Mick Ronson's guitar!.

As fun as all these references (real or imagined) may be, Castrati is in and of itself a delightful romp, set to wild song, with hallucinatory projections that range from the ridiculous to the sublimely beautiful.

While awaiting a cosmic rendezvous with the comet Eros, Castrati (Zabordsky) and his mother, Mama Didi (Whitehead) celebrate their cult of sexual liberation with the help of their acolyte, Princess Edward (Collier).  They steamroll over over social taboos like incest and monogamy, while satirizing both Catholic and Evangelical Christianity.

Castrati is hilariously funny, but at its core lies the internalized shame about who we make love to and how, that, fifty years into our liberation struggle, still burdens queer people to this day; a theme that Castrati shares with The Cunning Linguist. Before their spiritual awakening, Mama Didi urges her son to be normal, to be “ordinary. The violent hatred our liberation awakens in our oppressors is present  in an episode with chilling relevance to recent events. As a counter to the violence and shame, the screen images of sexual liberation are sacred rather than profane, like vibrant stained glass windows.

The three performers are all skilled singer/dancer/actors. I know Mr. Whitehead from his dazzling performance in Theatre Outré’s Unsex’d at the Halifax Fringe a couple of years ago. I’m familiar with Aaron Collier’s mighty gifts as a composer and musician, I was delighted to discover he’s a lovely actor with a scene-grabbing gift for understatement. The revelation here is Katherine Zaborsky. To her vulnerable and charming Castrati, she brings an astonishingly beautiful voice, worthy inheritor of the the legendary castrati of history. Kudos also for Richie Wilcox's direction, he runs the show as fast and tight as Mark Tewkesbury in a ... suit!

As I stated earlier, Queer Acts is having a very good year indeed. Castrati is up there with the very best of the festival’s previous offerings. Funny, serious, giddy, profound; I loved it, I hope you will too.

Only one more show for me to  to see, tonight it’s Gavin Crawford and Kyle Tingley’s “Friend” “Like” #Me.  And I feel pretty secure that I’ll be safe in their professional hands.

Castrati has three more performances: tonight at 10:30pm; Saturday at 10:30pm, and Sunday at 10:30 pm. Once again, I highly recommend it.

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