How does a drag collective mark their second anniversary? By putting on an all-singing, all-dancing queer drag pantomime, of course! Away with the Fairies marks a new adventure for the Oxfordshire Drag Collective, marking their first full-scale theatrical production. It's all done by the collective (writing, acting, directing, design) and it explodes on stage, a shimmering meringue of colour, music and inclusivity that wonderfully mashes together Jack & the Beanstalk and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The narrative at times resembles a very enjoyable fever dream. In short, the fairy king and queen fall out over how best to use their latest creation, a love potato. At the same time, in a nearby poverty-stricken village, Jack is sent by his mother to sell their talking horse (who espouses socialist ideals). A mix-up leads the horse to the fairy queen, and the love potato to the village. Gender constructs collapse and sexuality norms are challenged as hilarity ensues.
There is so much to love in this production. The ensemble are all universally wonderfully, brimming with talent and personality. Away with the Fairies is an admirably ambitious take on the pantomime, managing to find space for all of its performers to have a starring moment. The soundtrack is a mix of fabulous camp classics and some amusing parodies. And the cacophony of puns that find their way into the script made the audience both chortle and affectionately groan. While there are minimal set and props, the show benefits greatly from some utterly terrific costuming, which aligns this work with more traditional Shakespearean productions.
As a production, Away with the Fairies can be rough around the edges, with occasional technical difficulties. But this all feels very fitting for the panto, and the show barrels along at a terrific pace. Where proceedings particularly stands out is in finding a message that allows the show to lift and rally its audience. The last few minutes are rather moving as the company takes the time to talk to us, to reach out and offer us comfort in this strange time.
I'd love to see the Oxfordshire Drag Collective's next production, as this one brims with potential. There are interesting elements introduced and sadly lost in a second half's race to the finale. Early on, characters question their role in the story, highlighting misremembered elements by our unreliable narrator. At times Away with the Fairies finds room to explore its own literary origins, deconstructing tropes of both panto and Shakespeare. It would have been nice to see all these elements brought to a fruition, but one can forgive the group if their ambitions are slightly ahead of their execution.
Away with the Fairies was a charming night at the theatre, one that offered a well-timed shot of warmth and love. With rarely a lull in the energy, proceedings flew by and ended on such a resoundingly hopeful note that you couldn't help but be moved. I left excited for whatever charming lunacy the Oxfordshire Drag Collective planned to put on next.