Remixed and revisited for Pride 2010, Confessions of A Dancewhore fuses comedy, burlesque, drag and new media performance to explore the contradictions and clichés of queer life.
Twaits, whose plays include Icons and The One You Love, recently spoke to Whatsonstage.com reviewer Honour Bayes about Confessions, gay theatre and his unique performance style.
Michael Twaits is telling me about a man who, footsteps away from Trafalgar Studio 2, was beaten up by three youths and then 18 days later died in hospital; “These strangers actually stamped on his head for no other reason than he was gay.” He looks justifiably incredulous, “I think that’s a message that everyone can understand.”
A regular on the cabaret circuit as Lady M, his foul mouthed drag alter-ego, Twaits is eager to avoid any simplified ‘queer’ categorizations about his one man show Confessions Of A Dancewhore, now playing at Trafalgar Studios. “I wouldn’t call it a gay theatre show, the politics has to be there in a way that is accessible to a straight middle class white mother of three”. Indeed with Confessions Twaits is keen to avoid any categorizations about identity, gay or otherwise. “I started writing something that was about personality and the different sides of people’s personalities, who you are with friends down the pub, or your parents, or work…”
Whilst this is something that we can all relate to, as a flagship show for London Pride he understands and is proud (excuse the pun) of this part of his life; “I’m a gay man, if I have one hour and 20 minutes talking about my personality and the way I am in life and nothing about homosexuality comes into it then I haven’t dug very deep.”
Created three years ago at Mountview, Confessions was initially an MA dissertation project that was born out of a frustration with a school casting ethos where “they push you away from your natural instinct, so I was playing sea captains and evil fathers and dukes.” It’s hard not to find this a rather hilarious image when looking at the elfin-like Twaits and it’s easy to see that this would be frustrating. “I never got a fop in restoration!” he bemoans elegantly.
It was an instant hit quickly followed by a period of research and development at The Oval House Theatre where it was given a First Bite and then a full run; “At Mountview it had its head in academia which sounds really pretentious but it wasn’t a commercial piece it was an exploratory one.” At the end of his time at The Oval House it had become both “After the three week rehearsal period and the three week run that was where it became the show it is today.”
A university student with a reputation for stunning visuals, it is clear from Twaits’ earlier work that stagecraft has always been massively important to him. It seems this is still the case, with Confessions incorporating a number of lovely multi-media moments including seven versions of Twaits performing a politicized Cell Block Tango and a painful conversation with the younger, straight him.
With influences that range from lo-fi Queer Theatre icons such as Peggy Shaw, Split Britches, Kate Bornstein and Tim Miller to the epic events of Robert Lepage, Pina Bausch and Robert Wilson, Twaits’ productions sit somewhere between polished finery and a rawer, more grass roots mentality.
What results from this eclectic marriage is a glitzy show with something firmly to say and a hefty distaste for kitchen-sink realism; “When I’m creating work I’m not really that bothered about, I’m going to get in trouble if I say it (!), but a story isn’t as important to me as the visual – what’s being said is, but a story with a character and a beginning, middle and end…isn’t actually the important thing, it’s making a piece of theatre a piece of ‘theatre’, I don’t want to reenact something that you could see in Eastenders.”
Not that he’s against this type of acting work. Now with a healthy body of solo work behind him (Icons and The One You Love currently in development) Twaits is looking to take on more acting roles and he’s definitely not snobby; “I’d love to be ‘corpse on slab’ in the new Lynda La Plante, all of that I’m more than happy to do and want to do in fact. But I’ll always be a theatrical performer within the confines of my own work.”
Speaking to this constantly shifting artist Twaits’ ethos, it seems, is all about looking forward, change and development so why come back to an old show for Pride 2010? He thinks studiously, “There’s a certain audience that comes with a West End show, and when given the opportunity to take this show, which is an alternative show, to the West End I jumped at it and I don’t feel it will be the last time I do Confessions because as a show itself it’s always changing… although (with typical fluidity) I have no plans to do Confessions after it!” And with that and a twinkle in his eye he’s off with a gorgeous blonde wig under one arm and a psychological essay on the Id, Ego and Superego in the other.
Confessions of A Dancewhore continues at Trafalgar Studios 2 until 3 July 2010.