Pageant at the Vaudeville Theatre
Sometimes the venue is as important as the show itself, and so it proves with Pageant, which has transferred from Islington's King's Head to the West End's Vaudeville. In the congenial, if cramped, cabaret setting of the King's Head, Pageant had an undeniable camp charm and the intimacy of the room generated an indulgent goodwill on the part of the audience. In the more comfortable but distancing surroundings of the Vaudeville, however, the show is cruelly, not to say crudely, exposed.
With its production values also only marginally enhanced for the West End (it now comes complete with a double-sided lit staircase for walk-down entrances, a few feeble chandeliers and wobby pillars, plus the facade of a UFO - don't ask! - for the second act), it can no longer trumpet its cheapness as an asset, either.
In fact, the one-joke show - based on the not especially amusing premise that all the female contestants in a beauty queen contest are actually men in drag - needed to invest in a stronger script (co-written by the show's director, Bill Russell, with Frank Kelly) and songs (with music by Albert Evans), as well.
Thrown together off-Broadway, where it originated a decade ago, it was no doubt likeable enough, and traces remain of the unpretentious, life-affirming drag queen wit that informs it. But a West End theatre is made for sterner stuff, and much of the show's light, slight appeal is lost in the process.
Still, in the true competitive spirit of both the sport of beauty pageantry and also that which occurs whenever two or more drag queens (and in this case, six) are gathered together, the show is utterly stolen by one of them. And that stellar, five-star performance - by Miles Western's Miss West Coast - single-handedly goes a long way towards redeeming the evening.
To watch Western in her first act expressionist dance of the “Seven Ages of Me” - which begins with a surprisingly high-brow reference to the work of the legendary Martha Graham - is fun enough, but its worth coming back for the second half if only to watch her then demonstrate some obviously nauseating feminine deodoriser products. It truly is one of the funniest sights on the London stage.
Would that the rest of Pageant were up to this standard. As compered by the inanely grinning and leathery Lionel Blair - like an all-singing, all-dancing version of Dale Winton - you find your smile becoming as fixed and false as his. Except when the glorious Miss West Coast is on stage and in her considerable element. Don't take your eyes off her. It's the only place worth watching.