It’s such a lovely theatre time in Sydney in September. The weather is lovely and there is a plethora of lovely, reasonably priced shows as part of the Sydney Fringe. Doubly lovelerly, there is always something gay to be seen. The Queer Fringe, sequined blessings on the New Theatre for their stewardship, showcases community centred work.
And what do we get as part of the Queer Fringe? In the case of DIVA WARS, we get authenticity. There are seven men on stage here. Lovely looking each, I might say, and each holds dearly to a Diva who got them through … music to cry to, trial by media to find strength in and, not forgetting, style to emulate. Lemonade Salvation if you will. They sometimes fight among each other in a surprisingly aggressive laddish way, sometimes they speak directly to us but any didacticism is mitigated by vignettes which tell a story which brings all the characters together. And an inventive bit of audience participation in the middle. It’s pretty obvious that the on-stage characters are not the only Diva devotees.
Of course Madonna is there. Writer/Director (co-director Jace Pickard) Wayne Tunks knows his divas but Madonna often crops up in his work and he certainly puts up a good case. The rest of the ensemble (Tristan Clark, George El Hindi, Lucas Glover, Dan Healy, Timothy Tari, Andrew Wang) will give a passionate defence of their chosen Diva so I won’t spoil the surprise by naming the other six competitive choices. Will it all end in squeals and a “Leave Brittany alone” meltdown? Surely there will be a hair-pull of a smackdown in the finale!
There are a great many Divas referred to in DIVA WARS and the real men who populate the stage have funny, heart-warming and sneakily intelligent reasons for their devotion. Their individual backstories cover a range of queer life and the themes are real world themes … societal and social media pressure, ageism, internalised homophobia. Each has a taken a journey and each will leave the stage having shared one story among millions. With a finger snap, vogue, shoulder or hip sashay, muscleman pose and so forth for emphasis.
The smart script is not glossy however. There might be temptation to drag it, or thump it or buff it with a bigger budget but the simple expression of real life is much more touching without veneer overlaid. Issues are not shied away from … not all of our Diva advocates actually wants to marry for example. Emotions wrangle with logic when commitment battles with hookup. Wellness and the judgement of those who would tell others how to love are given a firm but gentle airing.
There is also some secret language stuff well out of my understanding. But there a joy in listening to an audience of grown men groan at a comment, joke or piece of business that looked and sounded innocent to me. Part of the fun of DIVA WARS.
The enjoyment is not all we take of the theatre with us though. It’s the women, the Divas. And the music that unites us echoes softly as friends greet friends in the foyer afterwards to wait for the second show of the Queer Fringe double bill. What assails us seems far away. Lovely!
DIVA WARS is playing at various times at New Theatre, Newtown.