Review by Bella Wellstead
Spectacle and sparkle. A silver screen starlet. Quivering red lips and a bare chest that disappears into a tight-cinched corset. In Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn At Film School), drag performer Etcetera Etcetera waves their twirling baton to transport us into their life and history as a film student and a drag performer. Produced by Fruitbox Theatre Company’s Madeleine Gandhi and Sean Landis, Big Screen, Small Queen is part of Pride Amplified.
The conflict between childhood dreams and adult life can be rife with surrender and disappointment. In laying bare the clash between the two, Etcetera Etcetera dismantles it, suggesting that the former heavily informs the latter, whilst the latter revitalises the former. Throughout Big Screen, Small Queen, Etcetera Etcetera tells us what they learnt as a film student – no thanks, of course, to film school. These monologues are interspersed with dance, lip sync, and costume changes that bring home the power of drag as an instrument for self-expression and self-love.
Etcetera Etcetera performs with impressive vitality. They are comedic yet elegant, twisting and whirling with expert fluidity to satiate the transfixed audience. They draw on references to the drag queens of cinema, noting Stephan Elliott’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Divine’s performance in John Waters’ Pink Flamingos. Additionally, they parody the figure of the Hollywood starlet with an indulgence and melodrama that delight.
Set design by Soham Apte has an elegant campiness – two enormous spotlights sit either side of a projector screen. Underneath, an oversized length of film meanders lazily. A raised, circular platform sits in the centre of the stage, like a plinth on which the luminous Etcetera Etcetera may perch.
Lighting designer Aron Murray dazzles and stuns. The pattering flash of camera shutters gives way to a succulent flamingo pink wash. This in turn is usurped later by fingers of multicoloured light that glint off Etcetera Etcetera’s gown and stretch into the corners of the theatre. Murray has expertly manipulated the contours of the performer’s spangled costumes to make them twinkle centre stage.
This shimmer owes much to costume designer Erin Caroll, whose radiant designs astonish without fail. One moment, Etcetera Etcetera dons a bulky feather coat in black and red. The next, a white satin dress with puffed sleeves and a wound of blood-red rhinestone that blooms from the performer’s side. Later, Etcetera Etcetera preens and twirls in a cloak of layered pink ruffles.
Choreography by Carter Rickard is slick and vibrant. Rickard and dancer Jack Williams fill the space around Etcetera Etcetera with a self-assured poise. In the interludes between musical numbers, the two help with costume changes and sweep loose beads off the stage. The comedy of these metatheatrical intrusions is further enhanced by the jabs and jibes that they aim at the star as they go.
Together, the lighting, the costume, the sound, and the dancing afford the audience a lavish buffet of delectable visuals. A live video feed – courtesy of Matthew Miceli – is projected onto the wall behind Etcetera Etcetera throughout the show. This is the cherry on top – the final, trousers-button-busting course of the night.
Etcetera Etcetera speaks lengthily of the disenfranchisement they felt as a queer film school student. Big Screen, Small Queen is a reclamation within a reclamation. The drag performance spotlights Etcetera Etcetera’s queerness, gussying it up in ruffles and sequin. Costume changes occur onstage as the audience watches, imbuing the performance with a daring vulnerability. This performer is unapologetically visible and relishing every second of it. As they stare with brash, wide eyes down the barrel of the camera, they are reclaiming the filmmaking dreams of their childhood.