Manchester’s Queer Up North Festival gets off to an impressive start
with the UK premiere of this solo show by American actor and performer Taylor Mac.
The Young Ladies Of … is inspired by Taylor’s father, who,
while stationed in Vietnam, placed a lonely hearts ad in an Australian
newspaper. Hundreds of women replied, and Mac Senior kept up a regular
correspondence with many of them. The letters gathered dust for years
until Taylor’s mother passed them to her son; captivated by the stories
behind the letters, he decided to use them as the starting point for
Imagine Blake Morrison’s And When Did You Last See Your Father
with lip gloss and sequins. On second thoughts, don’t. Taylor was only
a few years old when his father died and coming from a line of Texan
rednecks (the family initiation into manhood was via sex with a
prostitute), it’s unlikely the pair would have seen eye to eye. It’s
startling to hear that Mac Senior is buried next to John Wayne.
Yet this image of right wing masculinity is never entirely
consistent. Mac Senior was a fan of Rodger and Hammerstein, and songs
from the film Carousel are used here as an ironic
counterpoint (performed in a manic, ukulele led style). The letters
arrive on stage in a dizzying set piece of collapsing boxes. Several of
the replies are openly heartfelt: Mac Senior seemingly possessed some
sensitivity, enough to encourage his correspondents to reveal their
true selves. Who was he, really?
Mac himself is a charming, engaging performer, and when he utters
the dreaded phrase ‘audience participation’, no-one flinches. Towards
the end, he asks the audience to sing the phrase ‘What’s the use of
wondering?’ - even though he can’t help doing just that.
There are plenty of camp asides but Mac is at his best during the
more emotional moments (one woman’s letter details the grief she
experienced after the death of her fiancé). He rails against his father
and America, a country he professes to no longer understand (one which
has never understood him), but then has a change of heart. Mac may not
have known his father but still misses him. It’s a surprisingly moving
As Philip Larkin once wrote: ‘What will survive us is love.’