THROUGH A BEADED LASH is about ways of seeing. The character who coins the term in the play, now showing at the Depot Theatre, is Brent … in his drag persona as Catherine. Brent doesn’t actually want to be a woman. The long lashes and gowns and wigs are just a structure for expression. Drag is its own art. It’s about perception. I have never donned a beaded lash but, from the sidelines, I saw the world that Catherine inhabited and I was ready to go back. And I am so pleased to have had the opportunity.

Adam seems to be an observer too. He is closing up his gay bookshop on Oxford Street after 25 years. He has seen the ‘Golden Mile’ through its heyday. As has Zoe, his informal business partner. They have known each other since 1984 and shared each other’s loves and losses. Having made a packet selling to a developer, Adam is ready to move on but Zoe needs a little reflective time. She has brought with her a chest of treasures from the 1980s. Will these half remembered relics open them to remembering or end up in the skip with the useless shop fittings?

As we meet the 1980s version of Adam and Zoe, playwright Robert Allen peoples his stage with beautifully drawn characters to distill an age. An age when the bars on Oxford Street thumped until late and those beautiful boys bumped together until the morning. Where personal identity required exterior expression. There was gay everything: Doctors, vets, removalists, cleaners!

When we meet the 1984 incarnations, Zoe is in her ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ Madonna worshiping kit, Old Phil is a bear in short shorts and Adam is a misinformed ‘straight acting’ pianist come to accompany the flamboyant Brent in a remembered rendition of the Sydney Gay Centre in Surry Hills. With ‘Taxi Club’ overtones in the talk about one wobbly staircase fire exit!

It’s a wonderful trip back for me with so many references to the scene as it was. ‘Patchs’ where Allen was a choreographer, the South Dowling Street Beat and of course, we all knew Dawn. But the elephant on the dance floor is AIDS. It decimates this community, this world that Robert Allen has so lovingly revisited: straight and gay; drag queens and fag hags; young and old, it will touch them all.

Also well written are the other threats from within and without. Ignorance and judgement. The Festival of Light gets a reference, as does the attitude of the police and taxi drivers, and ageism rears its head when Old Phil is not invited out on the town. These are here for the audience that wishes to see them. Much more accessible to the general public is the witty, funny and character driven aspects of the text.

As directed by Julie Baz, the show is free flowing and intricately plotted. The space is really well used to keep the characters in motion around each other. Oliver Rynn and Leo Domigan as the young and old Adam share the distance and disengagement which underlies his persona. Domigan has great command of the past especially in the overlong naming reprise. One can feel the real people behind the dates flashed up just as one can when The Quilt is read.

As the younger and older Zoe, Emily McGowan and Cherilyn Price share the enjoyment and calculated protectiveness of men they can only watch and support as disease and death changes their world and world view. Price really nails the recent weariness of being ‘the other’ as it manifests in new secrets and McGowan is bubbly and effervescent and drawn to the incandescence of Brett, played by Ryan Henry, who is engaging and entertaining.

After this witty, nicely structured reminiscence my friend and I left the theatre nostalgic and a little sad. We gossiped and shared all the way home. But we also wondered where those patrons who sat on their hands when most others were wildly applauding had gone during the previous 80 minutes.

THROUGH A BEAD LASH is playing at the Depot theatre until the 12th December. Performance times are Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5pm.