This is an all too trim and tasty Christmas serving of the kind of raucous and DIY-feeling queer energy you like to see at the Camden People’s Theatre. A They in A Manger begins with a wardrobe – rather fittingly for the collective known as Wardrobe and Sons, who are producing the night. In a humming growl and decked out in Christmas finery, the wardrobe claims to be a West End power unto itself, and opens to let out its four festive players.
Directed by Head of Cabaret for Shotgun Carousel, Molly Beth Morossa, it’s a real variety hour, which pays more than lip service to the deadening self-quieting or isolation faced by plenty of queer people in this season with its emphasis on family and home. It sits you in it, at several points, as well as flicking through alternatives. A They in A Manger is a collaboration between four live performance artists, overseen by Frankie Thompson (CAttS, Body Show) and produced by Beth Sitek (High Steaks), both rising queer powerhouses themselves.
Drag king Len Blanco is our host for the night, who whizzes us through his backstory as a member of north Wales boyband M4 with their beloved hit “Meet Me at the Ringroad (Ringroad Ringroad)”. He’s an engaging bloke who we want more of, even menacing the audience with a brief participatory game show based on his family’s disapproval of just how “famous” he is, with his name changes and the like.
Danielle James, a playwright, actress and drag performer, sings gorgeously and delivers a comparatively dense monologue on the repressive silence of the church, turning instead to the erotic power and force of sound. The wardrobe presents her in a way Beckett might have approved, at first, with just her head in profile showing at the top of the saloon doors, focusing us on her collagist use of images, and minute expressions of distress.
It’s a slight surprise a pole fits in the CPT, but An0maly’s performance with it is thoughtful, sexy and cohesive, searching for rest in a white, loud world, and features a voiceover mapping a queer sex worker’s original discomfort with Christmas to appreciation for making holiday bank, and other ways of doing Christmas (with your polycule, partners, and mum). An0maly’s dancing as the Grinch in particular is beautifully-observed, angular and leaning, and very funny.
Vijay Patel’s sparkly Xanadu lipsync and brief video introduction, splicing together Olivia Newton-John and themselves writing inside the wardrobe, musing on queer joy, is a fitting end: their lowkey setup a disarming, quiet moment. Like all the acts, it’s all too brief: when the four are reunited together, they are stars you can’t resist. There’s no danger of any act overstaying their welcome: indeed, we could take another helping, it’s a shame it isn’t longer. Despite the accidental chaos of the night I visit (involving real blood and real concern!), any other trip would feel similarly game, anarchic and moreish.