The conceit of two grown men dressed as female frenemies from high school is ripe for exploring, and the pun-filled potential of Ann Xiety (Hamish Russell) and Dee Pression (Tom Sainsbury) speaks for itself. You’d be forgiven for thinking Sainsbury has done a drag show before; his tendency towards camp is a natural fit for the medium. Russell’s natural stage presence as a drag queen doesn’t shift as seamlessly into scripted dialogue but shows potential.
If the onstage chemistry between the two doesn’t always spark, and they’re often funnier separately than together, they do well bouncing off the numerous caricatures played by Frith Horan and Ava Diakhaby (also supporting as backup dancers). Brynley Stent appears on stage as the men in their lives, epitomising bad boyfriends to side-splitting success.
Plenty of comedy is made from the debilitating pressures of modern life, from the workplace to dead romance. They’re surface-level jokes, but performed with the typical discomfort found in Sainsbury’s works. It’s this funhouse mirror of our everyday anxieties that he mines comedy from so well, whether you’re working at ‘AS Seen on TV’ or your boyfriend would rather be playing Xbox. However, because the relationship is painted in broad strokes, it lacks a certain heart that is essential for us in rooting for or against these unlikely protagonists.
It’s a surprisingly subdued evening that will disappoint those thirsty for the hysterics of Drag Race or the grotesqueness of John Waters. The bigger than life theatrics are left to the lipsynchs which are a highlight, toying with the mundane world of the play with the music of choice, often playfully on-the-nose and self-aware (Lady Gaga’s Telephone to The Smith’s How Soon is Now?). This contrast between the luridness of drag and the banality of living is the show’s strongest attribute.
Coming right off a season of Gays in Space and taking Dynamotion’s D.I.S.C.O. to Splore, Sainsbury maintains his reputation as a notorious workhorse, but it’s not a complete surprise that Wigging Out doesn’t feel fully realised. Plenty of laughs and awkward humour make this latest offering worth a watch, even if it never quite lives up to the potential of its premise.
Wigging Out plays at The Basement until 4 March as part of Auckland Fringe.