revew: Peaches Christ & Jinkx Monsoon – Return to Grey Gardens
Return to Grey Gardens/
by Peaches Christ & Jinkx Monsoon/
prod Ben O’Callaghan/
Contact [UK première]/
Sometimes you go to see a show and know exactly what you’re getting and it’s just what you need and it stops you from worrying about the EU and your bank balance for an hour and a half and you knew it would. It’s probably inaccurate to think of drag as a distraction from reality. Mostly, it relies on signalling the daftness of reality, the arbitrary rules we’re not supposed to break. Return to Grey Gardens is 90 minutes of unreality, with the blessed effect of obliterating everything outside of the room. Peaches Christ and Jinkx Monsoon play ‘Big Peachy’ and ‘Lil’ Jinkxy’ in an irreverent parody of one of the most touching films I’ve ever seen.
If you’ve reached this far and you’re someone who has never seen the Maysles Brothers’ 1971 film Grey Gardens then please amend that. I’m not saying this in a judgemental ‘I can’t believe you’ve not seen The Godfather!’ kind of way – it’s just a wonderful film and you’ll get more from reading about this show if you’ve seen it. It’s right here on youtube, and it’s a sweet, affecting documentary following Jackie Onassis’s aunt and cousin and their obscure, intimate relationship, resentment and dependency on each other. Sometimes people live the minutest and most claustrophobic of existences. Sometimes you can watch them do it.
My enjoyment of this show is as much a result of my love for Grey Gardens as it is of my love for men in dresses lipsynching to pop songs. I suppose this is why people go to see Mamma Mia! Right? I’m reminded of my suspicion that art is more useful as a tool for exposing bias than anything else (god forbid I wonder what criticism might be). Maybe the function of reminding you of something you love is the only part we ever enjoy in anything.
Perhaps it’s unfair that I’ve already assumed I have nothing critically noteworthy to say about Return to Grey Gardens. It’s def a disservice to take the stance ‘it was silly and I enjoyed it – nothing more’. As well as a celebration of a film that we hold dear, this performance is a celebration of Manchester’s queer and drag communities. Jinkxy and Peachy’s cats are played by a cast of queer performers from the Manchester area, who are one by one introduced by Peaches at the show’s end. This is a collision of the old tradition and the new, presented by a community which has always been forced to be aware of its own political history. This is drag, in the sense that drag is a scion of queer performance, the holding up of a mirror, one vessel among others for a critique of hegemonies, a bit of different, out of difference.
Peachy and Jinkxy are discovered in the abandoned Contact theatre, living with their cats, drowning in dust and memories of past glory. It could almost be a metaphor for drag – a medium composed of reference to a past which manifests itself in its echoes throughout every performance. As much as Jinkxy may wish – and try – to escape her overbearing, controlling matriarchal drag mother, she relies upon and needs her just as much as she is needed herself. The past cannot be shrugged off; without it, how can we learn? History is vital; drag, survival, relies on memory to secure its own existence. Times change, but resistance is perennial.
I do not know if I emerge with any new thoughts – aside from ‘I need to see Cheddar Gorgeous perform again’ – but I didn’t come here for new thoughts. I came for a bolstering of that in which I find joy. I am reminded of my joy in the strength of the queer community, in all communities of resistance. I am reminded of my joy in seeing networks of support fostering generations of talent. More than anything, I am left with the reassuring reminder that I am part of a group of people who, at least, find the same stupid things just as funny as me.