The Tudor period: heads of state in wigs. 2 Queens & A Joker: A Fringe review

Cheryl Jameson, Vance Avery, Madelaine Knight in 2 Queens & A Joker. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

By Liz Nicholls,

2 Queens & A Joker (Stage 17, The Roxy on Gateway)

It’s been a while (OK, a decade) since Guys in Disguise, those flamboyant cultural historians, applied themselves to the Tudor period, famous for its strong women and its wigs. It’s perfect for them. As they point out in the billing for 2 Queens & A Joker, “we are a company who know a thing or two about Queens.”

At the centre of the play by Trevor Schmidt, Nick Green and Darrin Hagen — a riotous never-say-when concoction of rhyming couplets, coupling puns and dirty double-entendres — is the storied enmity between Elizabeth I (the virgin queen) and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots (the slut queen). It’s narrated by beleaguered go-between Don Chute the Messenger who somehow got written out of history.

In the original production the warring queens were played (with certain reverential drag echoes of Bette and Joan) by Schmidt himself and Nick Green. And Don Chute the Messenger by a woman, Maralyn Ryan. With this new Schmidt production Guys in Disguise salutes the age of (more) attention to gender parity. This time, in a kind of double-reverse drag,  the upstaging queens are played by women — Madelaine Knight as snarly Good Queen Bess and Cheryl Jameson as her more languid and sultry cousin Mary. They both deliver funny, flamboyant haute-camp drag queenly performances.

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Amusingly Knight opts for a nasal cracker-jack-box vocal delivery, staccato but whiney, that locates Bess the I somewhere between Bette’s place, Jersey, and the south Bronx. She’s easily bored, whatevaaah!, with a short attention span.  When she finally gets crowned (“patience is a virgin”), she does feel a certain obligation to say something memorable. “Awesome! Rule Britannia!” 

Jameson, who flings herself into sexy diagonals, has a low come-hither prom queen purr — and an air of smirky, unfazable self-regard. “Where is Scotland anyhow?”  She periodically reads from her poetic oeuvre: “My Men My Lovers Part 3. A poem by Mary Stuart.”

Ah, and there’s Vance Avery in a well-cut dinner jacket and silver Lothario ‘do that seems to propel him forward toward the microphone, a bit like Tony Bennet at Top of the Rock.  

It’s a (high)camp-out in the Renaissance. The actors, and the costumes, are fun to watch.  Relax and enjoy the inebriating excess, a veritable triple-martini of a show. And there’s no spot-quiz next period.  

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