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 this show.
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 revelation.
As Philip Larkin once wrote: ‘What will survive us is love.’