Where: Tale of 4 Cities
3rd Floor, Building B, Ke Center for Performing Arts
613 Kai Xuan road opposite West Yan An Metro Station (Line 3/4)
Starts: Weekly Performances, every Thursdays, Dinner Theater Show: 7:00pm – 9:30pm, Main Theater Show (no dinner): 10:00pm,
October: 15, 22, 29, November: 05, 12, 19, 26, December 03, 10, 17, 24.
Cover: 198 RMB 3 course set menu includes one glass of complimentary wine, 100 RMB (show only) includes one complimentary de luze cognac cocktail
Recently “Tale of 4 Cities” launched it’s weekly dinner “theater” series, a Thursday cabaret evening with the vision to impart a bit of “Le Gai Paris” into Shanghai´s nightlife scene. The problem is, if you’re looking for actual “theater,” the show invariably will seem like it doesn’t fit. It’s a drag show, pure and simple – and a charming one full of social potential – so you might as well just call it by its proper name and put it in its proper genre.
The show starts out well. The scenery on stage sets the atmosphere: red glitter curtains, a red sofa decorated with boa cushions, a vanity table with a diva photo, a platinum blond wig hanging by the mirror… The expectations surrounding tonight´s show are bound to be high, especially considering the title of it is “Cabaret Le Gai Paris: Inside the Queen’s Boudoir.” The advertising description says we´re up for:
A truly unique, dinner theater extravaganza, utilizing the ingenious artistry of Shanghai based cabaret artist “Venus” and Creative Director L. R. Franco, former General Manager of Art Lab MoCA Shanghai, to create this scathingly tongue in cheek comedy of foibles of love to life, featuring, “Venus, as the divine Queen” promises to engage the audience through inventive staging, captivating performances, and amusing song and dance routines.
Question is, will the show live up to its extravagant description?
Dinner is served, wine is poured, the audience is treated as were they part of the royal family. The staff and the production team behind the show do their best to create a welcoming environment.
Suddenly Venus arrives, the cross-dressing diva of the evening, rushing through the audience towards the stage, dramatically speaking, telling us the troubles of her heart. So the show begins…
The problem is it never really flies from there. The plot is thin – it tries to tell a story about solitude, the search for acceptance, the right to be one’s true self and the quest for love. But the script doesn’t do these topics justice – there’s no poetry or wit in the language, no depth in the way these ideas are treated.
The acting doesn’t help either, mostly it feels like Venus is just improvising her lines right there and then on stage, constantly trying to come up with something to say, and stage props feel like objects placed there merely to help her associate. The staging is cozy, but in no way “inventive” as promised, and the dance routines mostly consist of Venus bouncing about, stopping here and there to strike a pose. As if this weren’t enough, during the show we went to – admittedly a preview one for media – the microphone decided that jumping between the on- and off-mode might be a cool sound effect. Which it was not.
Okay, so where does this leave us? Is there anything positive to say?
Yes. All of the above can be forgiven if one chooses the right label for it, if the directors didn’t insist on calling it “theater”. This is a drag show, and as drag show it absolutely measures up to its genre, even though is far from touching the level of international professional drag artists as say…Taylor Mac.
In drag, the mere act of cross-dressing has a value, the mocking of gender roles, the challenging of the normative heterosexuality. In this vein, Venus and all that she stands for is wonderful and important, especially here in China where it is harder to raise these kinds of questions.
But if one persists in calling something theater, as the production team behind “Inside the Queen´s Boudoir” does, referring to the cabaret scene of “Le Gai Paris” linking it to Chinese opera traditions and whatnot, and then only deliver what is described above, it´s bound to fall flat.
It’s up to the spectator to choose what she or he reads into it: an important gender bending performance, or a mediocre theater play. In the end, because of its significance, we choose the former.