views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Etcetera Theatre
1st August 2016


Publicity photograph for Encore

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

For someone who makes a living playing characters, established drag queen Johnny (Dan Edge) seems to really hate people who play characters. I know, some people are just walking contradictions, right? In playwright and co-director Rita Sijelmass's Encore, a visibly irritated Johnny rejects a round of thunderous applause and flounces off to the sanctuary of his dressing room after a show, denouncing both fans and critics alike. You could be forgiven for finding him a little ungrateful and diva-esque, however his world weariness seems to be as much of a deliberate distraction from the truth as the blonde wig and fake breasts. When old flame Charlie (Sophie Green) drops by for an unexpected chinwag, we gain a deeper insight into what's really eating at away at him.

A large part of the production is given to somewhat indulgent monologues in which Johnny rails at us, with Sijelmass frequently philosophising through the character, his language becoming increasingly poetic and abstract. When he addresses Charlie, his dad (Elliot Gibbons) and the backstage worker (William Mead), Johnny manages to be deliciously cutting with some uniquely flowery quips, prompting plenty of deserved giggles. Outwardly, he can be cruel, testing the boundaries of his relationships with all those around him. Nonetheless, he somehow keeps us all drawn in, with a strange magnetism. I suppose whilst the wig slips off easily, it's harder to divest himself of his natural stage presence, even on the other side of the curtain after hours.

Sijelmass, along with co-director Hayden Munt, keeps the pacing relatively smooth for the most part, but it does falter at times thanks to Johnny's many verbose swathes of narrative. These lines are beautifully delivered though, with Edge commanding the room and really owning the role. We catch a glimpse of a softer side whenever Johnny is paid a compliment, with a coy little flutter proving despite the vitriol and attack on his audience, part of him is still looking for validation and still vulnerable. Green and Edge bounce off each other well, with the two actors having a very credible on-stage chemistry. Whilst the lines of the relationship is be blurred, it's clear that the pair have history and that Johnny and Charlie still feel a connection of some sort.

Reality and fantasy collide throughout the show, with Johnny's dad fading into the background and reacting to his son's dialogue with paternal interest, gentle nodding away in agreement. Bearing in mind this manifestation is an extension of Johnny's troubled mind, the quiet affection of the older man betrays a less acerbic and kinder side to the performer. With the set divided into three distinct areas, it feels natural for Gibbons to wander around unheard, never drawing attention away from the main action, yet his presence important. His demeanour helps us better understand his son. Johnny is nothing if not complex, and we enjoy trying to understand him.

Encore is a well-acted piece of theatre which grapples with huge themes of grief and identity. At only 40 minutes long with plenty of meandering dialogue, it's perhaps no shock it doesn't reach any grand conclusions. Worth seeing for Edge's masterful delivery alone, this is a truly fascinating vignette exploring the hidden demons of a successful stage performer. Rarely is a Camden Fringe show with an early afternoon slot so packed out, but as much as Johnny seems to despise the fans, he sure does have plenty.

Encore opened on 1st August and runs until 3rd August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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