Drag Baby


‘Drag Baby’ by Grace Carroll had a highly successful run at the King’s Head in 2021, and now returns during the season of Pride for a further outing at the Pleasance, London. Under this further scrutiny the play demonstrates both the strengths and weaknesses of pub theatre – on the one hand an edgy focus on hot-button issues that need to be opened up, together with a set of strongly characterised performances; and on the other a show that either needs to be trimmed to an hour or extended to a full-length evening that explores and develops the many unresolved or sketchily developed episodes in the dramatic arc.

Lu Herbert’s artfully chaotic set takes us to a backstage dressing room, home to drag artist, Dan, all cluttered and scattered with innumerable choices of costume. It doubles as the stage too, as we get samples of Dan’s acts, including Dolly Parton, while he hones his act with an eye on a big break into TV. He shares the dressing room with Nathan, a much more provocative and confrontational performer. The routines and banter of these two are interrupted by the arrival of Sally, a nervous figure from Dan’s northern past, who wishes Dan to become her sperm donor, so that she and her partner, Sandra, can begin a family. The trouble is the choice of donor comes as a suprise to Sandra, an abrasive and dominant figure, used to calling the shots. Nor is Nathan impressed. Where will Dan’s decisions go between these multiple and conflicting sets of demands?

This scenario sets up some intriguing issues and promising lines of conflict and debate. Grace Carroll writes some tight and tart dialogue, and there are some sterling performances here. Stephen Cheriton, also a drag artist called Orla Nuthin’, captures the vulnerability below Dan’s bitchiness, and Ché delivers some excellently confronting material in character as Nathan, as well as linking his character well to a disturbed family background. As Sally, Nicole Evans is plausibly fidgety, manipulative and needy, though the character remains more tiresome than sympathetic . We see far too little of the excellent Amelia Parillon in the under-written part of Sandra.

Ultimately these characters seem under-developed. The evening would be snappier if it were a shorter set of vignettes highlighting characterful backstage moments in a life of a drag queen. Or it might be darker and deeper as a longer play, with more twists and turns. The tug-of-war between selfless parenting and the self-assertion of a drag icon is an interesting theme to pursue, and if we could have had it tied more securely to the troubled pasts of all these characters something quite profound could be made of it. So much of gay life, even in more liberated times, is rooted in the unresolved traumas of growing up – especially forms of self-denial and self-cancellation. To have these unravelled and linked to forms of new psychological growth could indeed produce an empowering drama of real conviction.

However, as things stand, this is a mildly diverting evening that promises more than it delivers; though the strength of the performances goes a long way to mask the difficulties.


Pleasance Theatre, London

Writer: Grace Carroll

Director: Joseph Winer

Cast: Stephen Cheriton, Ché, Nicole Evans, Amelia Parillon

Until 22 June 2024

75 mins, no interval