‘We’re all born naked, and the rest is drag’ says RuPaul. Well if that’s true, the King’s Head Theatre’s Happily Ever Poofter, written and performed by Rich Watkins, goes one step further, coating itself in drag, dancing AND Disney’s greatest hits.
Prince Henry is the only gay in the kingdom, and what a lonely kingdom it is! With help from his Fairy Godfather, a host of skewed Disney references and the audience, Prince Henry journeys into the Wonderland of the Gay Scene, experiencing all there is on offer and deciding whether his story will ever give him the chance to express who he truly is.
The script isn’t saying anything particularly new, but nor is it trying to; rather, it’s a finger-clicking, toe-tapping reminder that being gay is still not okay in the eyes of some people, and particularly in the eyes of our mainstream Disney overlords. Well, screw it, says Happily Ever Poofter – if they won’t put me in their stories, I’ll put myself in theirs. What follows is a sweet, sassy and surprisingly poignant reflection on having to write your own narrative when the world forgets to include you.
Some of the Disney references feel shoehorned in – yes, we do visit ALL seven gay dwarves on our journey – but it’s hard to find fault with such a witty, clever script. It isn’t long before we leave our cosy, warm little kingdom and see the seedy underbelly of gay culture exposed, and you can bet that every pun is exploited to its full potential.
The team have done admirably with the limited space they have – colours and lights dance across the stage, large flags dangle beside a revolving door, and a bubble machine makes a brief but memorable appearance. Though the overall feel is one of budget restraints, Denholm Spurr’s direction steers into the skid, creating a world that, while not perfect, still sings to the audience.
The songs are a welcome addition to the show; a plethora of Disney tunes ranging from timeless classics to modern hits, all brilliantly rewritten with tongue-in-cheek, irreverent humour. Sure, not all of them land (a puppetry number about PrEp set to ‘A Whole New World’ comes off as more creepy than crease-worthy) but the rest are so wonderful that you forgive the duffers. You’ll never look at ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ the same way again.
Of course, performing some of Disney’s most beloved belters can put a strain on anyone’s voice; Rich Watkins struggles at times to hit the high notes, but what he lacks in vocal prowess, he more than makes up for in stage presence.
Watkins is a marvel to behold. From start to finish he’s a dizzying performer, incredibly expressive with legs for days. Leaping, bounding and death-dropping across the stage, one can’t help but feel that the space is too small for him; if given the chance to spread his wings, there’s no doubt he’d be even more brilliant. There are some wonderful brief moments of improvised humour too, reacting to audience input, though there were some missed opportunities; it would’ve been nice if Watkins had focused a little more on listening to the crowd, reacting with the people in the room rather than going with what had been rehearsed.
Overall, this production is a triumph, and a welcome reminder that though we may not always see ourselves reflected in the stories our parents tell us, there’s nothing stopping us writing our own. And they all lived happily ever poofter!