When last I attended OxPHWOARd it offered several firsts, not least the first show I had attended undone by torrential rain. Now with
The night began with a hilarious recreation of the previous Pride edition by the Oxford Drag Collective, complete with a shark and wearable Noah's Ark. This was a fun and fitting way to begin a show that often referred to the previous edition's watery demise. From this routine Ginger Tart introduced the evening and the mantra of OxPHWOARd (don't be a dick). And with the ground rules set, we were off.
Returning acts treated us to more complicated, challenging pieces this time. As exuberant as the atmosphere was, enhanced by our charming host, there is room this time for a greater exploration of identity. Ginger reminds us that Pride began as protest and this spirit remains throughout the compelling cabaret acts. Topics as diverse as gender stereotypes in toy adverts, pay disputes for minority drag acts and Asian representation in popular culture all receive an airing. Much of the evening manages to make the case for drag and cabaret as art.
With many acts performing twice in the evening, it is tough to pick the outstanding ones, as each had the time and space needed to shine. Pi the Mime found a universal topic in their first routine as they strove to break free of the constraints of an office job, while the second routine was haunting, sucking all the air out of the room temporarily. I think Pi the Mime is genius, boldly original and the kind of act that expands what OxPHWOARd can be. They had good company with many of the other acts of the evening. Lily SnatchDragon first broke some of the audience with a hilarious routine and then returned to smash stereotypes in a way that boiled with an earned rage. Benjamin Butch and Chiyo both gave performances that deconstructed politics of masculinity and representation, teasing out an emotional, engaging discourse in an entertaining and invigorating fashion. FKA was the very definition of fierce and single-handedly reminded me (through some exceedingly good song choices) how fantastic Britney Spears' music is. Lily Belle made her return to the cabaret scene after six years and blew apart stereotypes, all while performing from her wheelchair. Finally Symoné closed out both halves with a dazzling display of hula-hooping, peaking with 40 hoops being used at one time. Each of these performers were fantastic within their routine, a testament to Ginger Tart marshalling this evening into existence.
OxPHWOARd seemed better the second time around, reaching new heights. Difficult issues were explored and I found myself surprisingly moved a number of times. Some routines explored universal issues, while others drilled into far more personal ones. But each approached their topic in a fascinating and often unique manner. And through it all there was Ginger Tart, holding the evening together as she lost more and more of her resplendent outfit, until she was a nipple-y blur (Ginger requested this term make it into any reviews of the evening and it feels the perfect descriptor of the final moments). I will be attending OxPHWOARd again, it's just far too uproarious an evening.