With his engaging personality and enormous zest for performing (the late Ethyl Eichelberger was a big influence), the drag artist Taylor Mac is a hot ticket at Manchester's two-week gay and lesbian festival, Queer up North. Flouncily costumed, flamboyantly wigged, and decked out in outrageous make-up, Taylor Mac describes himself as a "cloon" – a female clown. He's far more than that, as he demonstrates in The Young Ladies Of... , his latest show, developed at London's Battersea Arts Centre and enjoying its UK premiere at Europe's leading queer arts festival.
The Young Ladies Of... takes the form of an attempt by Taylor Mac to write a letter to his father, Robert Mac, sparked by a cache of correspondence sent to Robert, a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army in Vietnam. Robert received thousands of letters in response to a lonely hearts ad he had placed in an Australian newspaper. But Mac senior died and all the envelopes remained unopened until, years later, his wife sent them on to Mac junior.
Accompanying himself on banjo, and with the help of a couple of puppets, overhead projections and a little audience participation, Taylor Mac digs deep into his and his family's past. One of the few things he has gleaned about his father is that his favourite piece of theatre was Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel. "What's the use of wondering... if he's good or if he's bad?" he has us sing from that musical as he meanders around his material.
Those letters were a gift, providing him with an opportunity to peep inside the lives of a colourful selection of lonely ladies, some of whose expressions of hope for a reply, a relationship, a purpose for living, make poignant as well as comic listening. Their snippets of information, peppered by Taylor Mac's pithy comments, fire his and our curiosity about the dad he never knew and, more intriguingly, how the macho Texan would have regarded his drag-pastiche artist son.
There are moments of visual magic. Letters cascade dizzyingly down, and Taylor Mac produces an envelope doll, with which he first dances, and then into which he gradually morphs, dancing gaily offstage in its flimsy paper dress.
'The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac', E4 Udderbelly, London SE1, 30 May (0871 663 2538; www.southbankcentre.co.uk)Reuse content