REVIEW: Pageant (The Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts) ★★★

Garish, glitzy and glamorous, Billy Russell and Frank Kelly’s Pageant was a camp catastrophe. With more pink than Priscilla Queen of the Desert, it was rather like a beauty contest on questionable substances. Pageant made its theatrical debut in 1991 and ran, off-Broadway, for over a year, gaining itself a revival in 2014. This hilarious hot mess is effectively a satirical mockery of American pageantry and I loved every moment. It is centred around six archetypal all-American ‘women’ that represented the: Ditzy Blonde, Southern Belle, Bible Basher, Texan Tart, Nervous Wreck and Obligatory Minority as contestants for the title of the 2017 Glamouresse Queen. What makes the comedy and criticism really shine is that the contestants are played by men, as evidenced by Adam O’Shea (Miss Deep South)’s impressive arms that somehow didn’t distract from her beauty or femininity. It was packed with witticisms, jokes and tamely inappropriate comments.

The show was made even livelier and funnier by the caricature of a host Frankie Cavillier (played by Miles Western), who was the perfect imitation of pageant host, managing to become a hybrid of Austin Powers, Paul O’Grady and Corny Collins. His unflinching smile and quick wit made for an entertaining evening. Alex Anstey’s portrayal of Miss Great Plains won him the title as tonight’s winner, as voted by members of the audience. Kevin Grogan (Miss West Coast)’s interpretative dance was the right level of ridiculous and absurd – perfectly in keeping with his high energy character that he maintained throughout, even after accidentally breaking the podium. Jonni Gatenby was the only unlockable male on the stage and playing the fiery Miss Texas with a blend of sass, sex and stupidity. John McManus showed off his belt as Miss Bible Belt with his humorous rendition of ‘Banking on Jesus’. O’Shea was graceful and elegant, his exaggerated femininity adding to the comedy. Nic Chiappetta’s representation of the Latina Miss Industrial Northeast had the audience in stitches, causing giggle throughout the auditorium whenever he entered.

Accompanying the actors onstage were Katy Richardson (the only ‘natural born woman’ in the cast) and John Clark, who played with peppy accuracy and great comedic timing.

It was a shame that audience was so small because it was an enjoyable evening, even if some of the laughing was at the cast instead of with them because despite the show’s questionable quality, its charm and comedy shone through much like Miss Bible Belt’s five o’clock shadow. The humour of the show helped to veil some of the social commentary, with comments such as ‘women should look beautiful to make the world more beautiful so that men have something pretty to look at whilst they run it’ and ‘they’re never too young for you to introduce make up’. It is certainly worth going to see if you’re in the mood for a laugh.

Reviewed by Thomas Barrett