These guys can certainly lip sync for their life, as RuPaul might say. And, most appropriately, one of them does it not just in drag, but as an actual Queen! Presented as part of the London International Mime Festival, Thick & Tight is the performance vehicle for the collaboration of Daniel Hay-Gordon and Eleanor Perry, established in 2012, and steadily building a strong reputation with a quirky mix of dance theatre, cabaret, mime and comedy, which was ideally suited to the intimate surroundings of the Lilian Baylis Studio. Their unique selling point is to imagine two famous people – who will never have met, in life – coming together in surreal encounters, portrayed in dance and clever lip syncing to recorded text.

The Princess and the Showgirl, Thick and Tight © Judita Kuniskyte
The Princess and the Showgirl, Thick and Tight
© Judita Kuniskyte

The evening's programme paired existing works (from 2016/17) and added a new filling in the middle, performed by guest artist Julie Cunningham.

The opening piece – originally commissioned for DanceWest’s Ignition Dance Festival, in 2017 – imagined an encounter between Queen Victoria and the character of Miss Havisham from Dickens’ Great Expectations, respectively representing the Queen Have & Miss Haven’t of the title and described as ‘a monstrous modernist ballet’.

It has many memorable moments, particularly in the comedy of the lip sync’d acting, with lines of text coming from David Lean’s 1946 classic film, with Miss Havisham’s bitter words memorably spoken by Martita Hunt and hilariously mimed by Hay-Gordon. Against this literary character that stands for all jilted brides – perhaps, alongside the Wilis of Giselle – Perry was Queen Victoria, miming to dialogue sourced from many clever associations, including from within the EastEnders’ Queen Vic pub and Dynasty)! These witty connections embellished the overall theme of two women (one real, one fictional) united by the grief of a dead husband and one that never was.

The action is broken up into several small scenes, with the protagonists changing places in the intervening darkness, and in addition to the recorded voices there is a similarly diverse array of music, from chunks of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, which was appropriately concerned with love and death, to Leonard Cohen and Fats Waller. This bitter bittiness made the sequences hard to follow. I found myself still thinking about the meaning of past episodes and not concentrating on the present, which became a tad irritating.

Queen Have and Miss Haven't, Thick and Tight © Darren Evans
Queen Have and Miss Haven't, Thick and Tight
© Darren Evans
Radical Daughters, Cunningham’s 20-minute solo (choreographed by Thick & Tight) broke the mould although it was still essentially inspired by two people, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore; step-sisters and long-term lovers who chose gender-neutral pseudonyms. They left France to settle in Jersey and joined the resistance during the German occupation. Sentenced to death, in 1944, they escaped execution when the island was liberated. Cunningham bears a striking resemblance to the self-portraits of Cahun (real name Lucy Schwob) and it would be difficult to imagine anyone else embodying this work, as she performs, with a silent intensity, in the guise of both these remarkable, creative people.

The Princess and The Showgirl is another clever title, at once referencing the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl starring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe (the making of which is the story behind My Week with Marilyn); but also aptly describing this imagined pairing of Princess Diana and Monroe. Hay-Gordon is incredible as Monroe, in drag, perfectly lip syncing her lines with extraordinary expression, enhanced by increasingly smeared make-up. Even without a blonde wig, he still embodies Monroe. The scenes parodying Some Like it Hot made me weep with laughter, with Thom Shaw as Tony Curtis (evocatively costumed in the disguised character of the sailing-obsessed pretend millionaire, Junior, while imitating Cary Grant) and Josh Spear as Arthur Miller; both playing speed tag-kissing with Hay-Gordon’s Marilyn (in character, as Sugar). Harry Alexander gave a pair of contrasting cameos as Michael Jackson and Prince Charles and Claudia Palazzo played Camilla, the “third person” in that Royal marriage.

As the young and naïve Diana Spencer, on the eve of her marriage, Perry was sensationally realistic; more so, in fact, than Diana’s actual dialogue for her lip syncs. The rambling answer to an inane question about whether she could cook was such a poignant reminder of Diana’s essential vulnerability, an innate weakness she shared with the showgirl. Just 13 months’ separated Diana’s birth from Marilyn’s death but they were the faces of two very different eras.

At the end of each episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, when two contestants have battled out the lip sync for their lives, one is invited to “Sashay Away”. But, as RuPaul famously tells the winner of each contest, Thick & Tight fully deserve to ”Shanté, you stay”, and hopefully for a long time to come. No-one makes work anything like this. Let’s see more, and in bigger venues.



****1