The Bareback Kings, Camden Fringe

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Review by Angel Belsey

I’m a long-time connoisseur of drag, ever since I met a sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania for the very first time at the age of 16. I went to a university where the annual beauty contest was a drag show (shout out to Fonda Cox, Miss Hendrix 1998), and I spent most of my leisure time in those years clubbing at a gay bar with drag acts performing on the hour every hour. I’ve seen a tremendous amount of drag since, with styles ranging from high drag to genderfuck–but most of the drag I see involves drag queens. Very rarely do I get to see drag kings, so when I saw that the Bareback Kings were coming to the Camden Fringe, I jumped on the chance to go.

The first thing to know about the Bareback Kings is that they are not going for . . . whatever the king equivalent of “fish” is–these lads are in comedy drag, not intending to serve realness and not needing to. Indeed, some of their jokes depend on their sketchy drag. So if you are looking for a beefier scene, you might be disappointed–though, frankly, when it comes to drag kings, you are going to have to take what you get and like it, given the lack of options in the field!

At the heart of the act, Seb, Gary, Brent and Dirk are four lads who want to be manly men with all the performative masculinity that entails, while also trying to be as woke as they can–or, sometimes, as minimally as they can get away with. It’s where they bump up against these boundaries that the laughs come–and they do. The show itself can be a little hit-and-miss, but that is the nature of improv, and when the guys are funny, they are very very funny.

My companion and I had one quibble: we wanted to see more audience interaction and brisk improv. We both felt that the scripted set pieces were amusing enough, but the parts that were off-the-cuff (especially the mansplaining segment) were tremendously good fun. We were also especially impressed by Brent Would’s singing voice and Gary Balding’s rapid-fire improvisational skills (though all four of the lads found a place in our hearts).

The world needs more kings dragging the patriarchy into the sunlight for us all to examine, and the Bareback Kings are a welcome addition to the drag scene. I had a fun evening out, and I’d love to see more of the Bareback Kings, especially if they take the plunge and make pure improv a greater proportion of their show.

The Bareback Kings was on from 6-7 August 2019 https://www.camdenfringe.com/show.php?acts_id=2699

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