YUMMY: How to Make a Western

YUMMY: How to Make a Western
Devised by James Welsby & the Cast. Directed & choreographed by James Welsby. Monologues written by Sarah Ward. Cinematography by Chris Bennett. Editing by Welsby & Bennett. Lighting by Jacinda Anderson. Melbourne Fringe Festival Online. 30 September – 11 October 2021.

Using the familiar tropes of the ‘Western’ genre as a framework, How to Make a Western is a funny, ultra-glamorous, and totally professional drag show.  It takes those ‘western’ tropes and gently (maybe too gently?) undermines, questions, and sends them up.  Fans of the Western movie genre will pick up passing references all the way through.  But, after all, the myths of the ‘Western’ depend on the hyper-masculine ‘cowboy’, the fragile female bearers of ‘civilization’ into the wilderness, and the murder of the natives and the theft of their land.  All in the name of ‘manifest destiny’.  Go West, young man!’

You might say that this show does rather err on the side of glamour at the expense of subversion – or that the stuff about colonists in America and here stealing First Nations’ land is true but a bit in your face clunky – but YUMMY Cabaret Ensemble have adapted, or converted, their live show successfully for online presentation. 

Enormous credit is due in their adaptation to the camerawork, atmospheric lighting, and brilliant editing – plus the clever use of some archival footage - of which there could be more.  This online presentation is certainly not a case of ‘we’ll just do our show as usual and film it ‘. 

Yes, we are aware, most of the time, if we chose - that we are in a theatre, or a studio, and that the sets are plywood or cardboard, but we are swept up in the performances, the costumes, and the choice of songs (all mimed, of course).  Not that there is much of a story per se, involving all the characters, but to help things along, there are witty ‘period’ intertitles as in silent movies.

After a sexy choreographed dance number, the Narrator (Foxxy Empire) introduces us to the town of Yummyville and the traditional cast of ‘Western” characters.  As well as Butch Sassidy (Barry Gumnut) and The Body (Shamita), there’s Big Daddy (Asha Buffet), the rich guy who owns the town.  Across town, storekeeper Lurlene (Hannie Helsden), dreams of going into the showbiz with her amazing hoops routine.  Belle (Valerie Hex) is the Preacher’s Daughter, ambivalent about her future.  Locked up in the pokie is dangerous Red Bellied Bitch Snake (Jandruze), seducing and terrifying the Sheriff (Adam Malone).  Of course, there’s The Widow (Bendy Ben), all in black widder’s weeds.  But trouble is a-brewing.  The town is menaced by The White Bandit (Zelia Rose) and only The Outsider (also credited to Zelia Rose?) can save things… 

By around twenty-two minutes, it looks like the story is over, but after a bit of correctional historical perspective from the Narrator, the story resumes in the saloon, where ‘Manifest Destiny’ (Asha Buffet again) is putting on a show… The Widow, stripped to her lingerie, is tied to the train tracks.  This is the most effective sequence transformed from the live show, complete with speeding train, sound effects, smoke, and close-ups of The Widow’s terror). 

An intertitle caption warns us ‘HIGH NOON’ – and the next caption (the best in the show): OK HUN C U THERE.  The White Bandit faces off with The Outsider.  There is much noisy, smoky gun play and balletic death…  And the Narrator tells us that we can rewrite history if we choose – just to make it more truthful. 

If you’re into drag shows – or even if you’re not – this is a highly polished, gloriously, iconically costumed and very sexy show.

Michael Brindley      

Photographer: James Welsby

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