The story behind Grey Widow, a one-queen drag/horror/comedy performed by Lady Aria Grey (AKA Callum Tilbury), is a simple one. At first. Lady Aria has murdered her husband, although there is quite a bit more to it than that.
The why and how of this murder are kept secret from the audience when we first meet, but as this beautifully rendered monologue soon points out, we’re all friends here. So, she’ll tell us the secrets of her life, his death, and everything in between – and after, come to that. Lady Aria says we are her friends, and we certainly want to be, so we listen and hang on her every word, no matter how dark it gets.
There is a lot of excellence in this show. It combines all the best elements of drag (including plenty of lip-syncing to the venerated Edith Piaf and plenty of near-the-knuckle humour) and adds a dash of horror that creeps up on you. It’s all fun and games at first, but suddenly you realise that the atmosphere has changed.
There’s a dark shadow looming up behind the story, and who – or perhaps what – is casting that shadow is anyone’s guess, but it certainly keeps the audience on their toes.
This is the cleverness of Grey Widow. The tone shifts with ease, tugging the audience along with it before they know quite what’s happened or where they are. This is partly down to Lady Aria herself. She has a stage presence that transcends the intimate space she is speaking in, and I feel that even on a larger stage, none of the storytelling would be lost.
Lady Aria Grey can captivate the audience with a look, a half-smile, a cheeky wink, and some unwavering eye contact, even when she’s telling them all about the terrible things she’s done, or wants to do. The audience is happy to go along with her, laughing one moment and listening intently to a furiously frustrated tirade the next.
Another reason that Grey Widow enthrals is the lighting and sound design. This has been well thought out, and the clever use of sound effects as well as music deepens the intrigue and the sense of dread that grows as the story unfolds. The lighting was particularly impressive; at one point, Lady Aria is lit just by candles, and the creepy factor is ramped up to eleven.
Grey Widow is a devilishly delightful and wickedly witty treat to be savoured.
VAULT Festival 2023 runs Tuesday 24th January to Sunday 19th March, full listings and ticket information can be found here.