by Matthew Magill
"I didn't want to be every woman...I wanted to be with every woman"
Haus of Bollix's parody of the romantic comedy opens in The Space under dim pink lighting. 'All By Myself' plays into the audience as The Pianist (Lena Stahl) sits gloomily behind a keyboard, dressed in a formless black robe like a hungover nun. As lights fade to blue, drag queen Crystal Bollix (Alexandra Christle) emerges slowly from a lumpy blanket that had been lying on stage since the house opened, miming to the music with at first just her hands before bursting out in a huge green wig.
"Enough of this Bridget Jones bullshit" a disembodied narrator yells as Crystal launches into a lipsync routine comprised of rom-com audio clips and camp pop music. The Pianist offers prop mics from hairbrushes to hairspray as the show collides Jane Austen and The Weather Girls, complete with umbrellas and failed attempts of playing the ukulele.
After our introduction, The Narrator is revealed to be a 15-year-old whose naive concept of love pushes Crystal into conforming to the model of the perfect woman. After some audience call-and-response, the first segment addressed 'The Meet-Cute' with a similar lipsync structure. It, of course, included a Colin Firth cutout as the two performers rushed through camp dance routines in a smash cut of trope rom-com scenes. After the climax of an extended car crash, queue rolling across the stage after sprinting through the house to 'One Way or Another', we moved to the first Commercial Break.
As a way to introduce the support act for a quick costume change, James Ireland took the stage to perform a trans-focused spoken-word piece. Their act addressed the 2018 Unicode emoji update which uploaded a wealth of images, including a lobster, but no trans flag. "Surely we deserve more rights than lobsters". As Ireland flowed into the core of his act, listing off statistics of trans suffering, he slowly dressed in a lobster costume. wrily maintained a bit of confusing, "...trans people and lobsters". Explaining the movement started by Charlie Craggs, the lobster was adopted as a symbol of trans identity. "We shouldn't have to pretend to be lobsters...pretend to be something we're not" Ireland explains in the heart of the piece as they descend into a paddling pool provided by The Pianist. The act comes to a close as Ireland explains that only in 2020 was the trans flag added, "Great work. Thanks hun".
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Bursting back onto the stage, Crystal's next segment was the Femme Trope Queen themed to Chaka Khan's 'I'm Every Woman'. Lipsyncing, she stripped layers of her costume to reveal the stock characters of rom-com: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl in a pink petticoat, The Career Bitch in a white shirt, The Amnesiac Lover in beige lace undergarments, and finally The Hot Mess in a red bra with a magician's chain of knotted underwear hidden within. Manic and sweltered, 'I'm Every Woman' shrieks across the house as a nightcore-remix. Crystal, now just wearing nipple tassels, plows through the audience as The Pianist fires the remnants of costumed identity at her. She coyly laments, "I didn't want to be every woman...I wanted to be with every woman".
As Crystal flees, we are given a secretive solo scene with The Pianist, the silent, straight-man character of the show, who performed light ballet to an artificial Microsoft George voice explaining how to approach 'Shy girls'. Stripping off the black gown to reveal a black bodysuit and pink tutu, The Pianist rejects the chant of this pick-up artist by moving into a Bob Fosse burlesque under red lights. With the cheering crowd, The Pianist silently returns to position as Crystal remerges, "Oh, did you miss me?", to bask in the applause.
Crystal's final act is a lipsync to Billie Eilish's "My Boy" as she gives up on the femme expectations of rom-coms to embrace the masculine. Wigless and in a white shirt, we are given a thrusting, arrogant chair dance before segueing into the final commercial break. Nat Funni was dressed in a pink satin bedgown with a pillow-shaped headdress, in a homage to the Rocky Horror Picture Show bed scene, as they are broken up with a rainbow sock puppet. They take on the character of a spoilt child, complete with a Shirley Temple wig, as they lament and sulk before stripping to reveal a pink and white thigh-high and garter combination and being invited back by the elusive, toxic puppet.
The performance closes with Crystal returning to an empty stage without The Pianist or The Narrator. As she rejects the growing darkness and green spotlight upon her, she inevitably has to listen to a missed voicemail that, professing a hopeless love from thirteen years ago, turns out to be from the drag queen herself. "You're a whole person" she reasons with The Narrator's voice of the past, "You're not half of anything". She rejects the email, the phone call, and the sweeping grand gesture for herself as she slow dances in the quiet, holding herself.
As the cast take their bows before a final group dance number, with club lighting and audience interaction, there was a sense of warmth and ease in the air. While the show may feel 'unpolished' to some, that only adds to the pure drag mania of the experience. The message of self-love and the rejection of heteronormative structures of romance was felt clearly. In a Crystal Bollix performance, the question is 'will they survive?' and I believe she came out much for the better this time.
Matthew Magill is an Irish writer and editor. He is also one of the Literature Editors at Radical Art Review. Follow him on Twitter.