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Review of Prom Kween at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Aine Flanagan - Prom Kween Production
Aine Flanagan – Prom Kween Production

It’s not often that I’m offered face glitter, so I went with the flow and took up the offer as the pre-show music throbbed around the theatre. Prom Kween (I have no idea why it’s spelt like that) examines the story of Matthew Crisson, a non-binary student at LaGuardia High School in New York City, who goes on to be crowned prom queen. According to the LGBT Foundation, “non-binary people… understand their gender in a way that goes beyond simply identifying as either a man or woman”. The production chooses to divide the role of Matthew amongst four of its cast (Bart Edwards, Sarah Daykin, Joe Da Costa and Natalie Klemar), for reasons explained in the show by its host and narrator, who goes by RuPaul (William Donaldson). I’ve made the arrangements for the central character sound unnecessarily complicated, but the salient point, if I have understood it correctly, is that gender fluidity is practised within the production itself.

It’s easy to tell the end from the beginning, but even when the winner is finally announced, it’s a scene not far removed from the 2017 Academy Awards, in which the Best Picture award was incorrectly declared. But here, RuPaul is simply retaliating against the snootiness of a fellow student of Matthew, Lexi Parker-Bell (Sarah Daykin), who is so confident of victory that she is somewhat oblivious to the change of opinion within the student body at large. I am pleased to report other twists in the story are not so predictable.

The script pulls no punches, and there were moments that had members of the audience openly gasping. The show takes the audience back to June 2016, and in the various antics that go on in this high school, I must admit there were moments when I wasn’t entirely sure what on earth was going on. It is, nonetheless, “a story about love”, and love, as is so often the case, manifests itself in unusual ways. Matthew’s father (Joe Da Costa) is one of those gun-toting men with a conservative viewpoint – think Stan Smith in the animated comedy series ‘American Dad!’, although in the end love is love, and love wins.

In its own words, the production is “uncomfortably topical”, but I hasten to add that this is not a show that takes itself too seriously. The show should not be taken to be a staged documentary of actual events, either – what really occurred may not have been as gloriously riotous as this, but it makes for good theatre. Its vibrancy is undeniably infectious, and if the running themes about tolerance and acceptance seem familiar, they can’t be repeated often enough in a world that still needs to hear that message.

There are double meanings galore: the show can be as risqué as one wants it to be, or not. The references to films like ‘Mean Girls’ (2004) and ‘Dirty Dancing’ (1987) help the production to reach out to audience members just that little bit older than Matthew. Even the toilet in this show is a Gender-Neutral Bathroom, while the close friendship between Matthew and Binkie (Natalie Klemar) is both poignant and convincing. Fun without being preachy, it’s a show that leaves its audiences with a sense of pleasure and delight that comes from seeing an affirmative production. A wonderful celebration of life lived to the full.

4 stars

Review by Chris Comaweng

Prom Kween is a coming of age comedy for those who hit that age years ago. It’s got it all: the jocks, the nerds, the mean girls… and RuPaul. Obviously.

Part parody, part homage to the American High School genre, Prom Kween salutes and satirises modern day America and its contradictions surrounding what is acceptable. This is a country whose president wants to build a border wall with Mexico, while the highest-rated reality programme is a race to become America’s next drag superstar.

Meanwhile, Hollywood’s turned into one big sex party. There’s a lot of material to work with. Prom Kween celebrates the country’s contradictions… while obviously ripping it to shreds.

It’s a show for any kid who took their glasses off and still didn’t look pretty. Any kid who couldn’t understand why being a bitch made boys like you. Any kid who questioned what it meant to be beautiful. It’s a story of falling in love… with who you are.

Assembly George Square Gardens
14th-26th August 2018


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