A suitable case for treatment

Chloe Poems Healing Roadshow Battersea Arts Centre, London
At the end of her Healing Roadshow, Chloe Poems announces that there has been, let's face it, precious little in the way of healing. "That was just a gimmick to get you to come," she explains, smiling sweetly and launching into a collective aura-audit. For many people, an evening in the company of a gay, socialist, transvestite poet is, in itself, an event. They can probably do without the actual laying on of hands, especially once they've learnt where the mitts of this "well-oiled cog in the wheel of life" have wandered. It's just a shame that the material Poems slips in by way of curative alternative - to show she's no mere novelty item, no panto dame with a difference - is so worn and familiar.

That material, initially, is gingham-based, a "a fabric made sacred by The Little House on the Prairie", we are told. It provided the psychological trigger that caused her to shrug off her masculine Tory alter-ego (Paddy Field, MP for the Wirral Penninsular). Its inherent socialism (the interdepending strands) will help Poems on her mission "to make the world a better place". Here, it clothes her and adorns her throne. The opening mock-homage to its power is almost undiluted Dame Edna (although her creator, Jenni Potter, has far hairier forearms). Poems salivates in toothy delight, her alliterative hymn ("Watch it swoosh and swish and swirl") rising to a falsetto crescendo ("It's here, it's queer and it's not going to be made into net curtains"). Unfortunately, most of the show is taken up with Poems trying to prove that her rouge, unlike that of Humphries' housewife superstar, has a defiantly militant hue.

After two rhythmic forays into the melancholy vales of gay clubland a la Pauline Calf - the first boasting the memorable shriek-after-me chorus: "Nothing's gonna stop us / Sniffin' our poppers", the second an accidental scat in a darkroom mistaken for a toilet - Poems gets on with her self-appointed task of repoliticising drag. First, she rounds on the apathy and body fascism of gay men, asking, in "Muscle Mary Quite Contrary, or It's Almost As If Hitler Won": "Oh, such a fine and structured face / Am I staring at the master race?" Then she sets about driving a stake through the heart of one of the drag queens of the undead, "who refuse to see queer as a movement". This involves doing a poor impersonation of a stock-type female impersonator, delivering each non-pc line with an exaggerated hitching of falsies and hairpiece.

Not only does all this feel as if it's being delivered to the wrong audience - a working men's club would surely be more of a challenge than the BAC - but its lack of subtlety means that Poems' pornographic finale sounds like more of the same rather than a step forward. Renouncing God and society for "the evils of masculine embrace", the poet (or should that be poetaster?) resembles a child running amok in a wordsmithy, hammering at any rhyme that might send the sparks flying - "We've been so high / We've touched the sky / We've even watched our friends die".

John Hegley, who pulled up at the same venue a few weeks ago with his squirting-my-nipples-at-my-brother-in-law routine is more subversive than this. With Hegley, the personal isn't political, it's just funny. Take away Chloe Poems' gingham frock, and what you're left with doesn't even raise an eyebrow.

To 12 Jan, BAC (0171-223-2223)

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