Theatre: Blanche & Butch, Tron, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

Four stars

FASTEN your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night, folks! A clue to the confrontational mischief that lies ahead is actually writ large on Butch’s t-shirt. Piss on Pity it says, and Butch (Garry Robson) soon makes it clear that, as a wheelchair-using drag queen, he wants recognition for his talents, not a sympathy thumbs-up for being disabled. If Butch doesn’t want pity, he’s not inclined to extend it to his fellow performers either in this latest, wickedly astute, provocation from Birds of Paradise.

The backstage bitching between Butch, Blanche (Robert Softley Gale) and Bette (Kinny Gardner) soon takes on a vituperative edge that gives a full-on two-fingers salute to PC niceties. Butch weighs into Blanche’s hope of taking the lead in their version of the 1962 cult classic, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? by unrelentingly casting up Softley Gale’s speech impediment. Meanwhile Gardner’s Bette struts about in high heels, manicured claws out as she rakes over the career humiliations of working with two disabled old queens. This Bette evokes the legendary needle-matches between Davis and Joan Crawford, but Gardner’s flouncing has bruised roots that go deeper than centre-stage rivalries. This is where the shared reality behind the spangled camp licks its wounds.

These characters are on-stage to challenge audience preconceptions and expectations: refusing to be niched by public assumptions about disability, gender and sexuality - being a drag queen doesn’t automatically mean you’re gay, a wheelchair doesn’t stop you living and thinking creatively. Time for society to wise up, really. Written by Softley Gale, with music by Tayo Akinbode, designed/directed by Kenny Miller and performed with a fabulously brazen swagger that dares to make the (usually) unspeakable into shockingly funny entertainment that ambushes your heart as well.