I Am Not Myself These Days

Tue 18th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Anna Fleck

at 08:19 on 24th Aug 2015

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I Am Not Myself These Days is a hard-hitting one-man show about vulnerability, love and acceptance. The play is an adaptation of Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s best-selling autobiography of the same name. Written and performed by Tom Stuart, this seventy-five minute long play follows the tragic story of blonde-wigged bombshell and drag queen Aqua in the Big Apple, from her promiscuous antics to throws of love for a high-class rent boy and coke addict, Jack. Set in a black box theatre with fluorescent strip lighting that creates the feel of a sleazy nightclub, I Am Not Myself These Days pulls you into a world of cheap vodka, late nights and drag clothes.

The focus on the brutality of Aqua’s life tends to be a little heavy handed in this show, as the harrowing message that Aqua has a horrendous lifestyle is repeatedly drilled into the audience long after it had been appreciated. However, particular moments still resonate. At one point, Aqua is kicked down and lies cowering on the floor after being brutally beaten by the incestuous older brother. It’s painful to see such a harmless figure wince and groan, as she mimes taking agonising kicks to the stomach to unforgivable screams, “You fucking faggot I’ll kill you!” The room filled with audience’s faces of shock and genuine concern for the victimised woman as Aqua spirals out of control, as sex, drinks, and drugs tear her life apart.

Stuart’s performance is both convincing and compelling. His ability to multirole, switching from Jack’s rough bass male voice to Aqua’s camp dulcet tones as the two declare their love for one another maintains both the flow and quick pace of the story. Whether acting as a man or a transvestite woman, Stuart is sensitive in his approach to his characters, successfully delivering drunken swaggers, raw outbursts of emotion, and comic moments through mastered postures, practised facial expressions and contrasting tonal voices.

Stuart’s skilful multi-roling sets up the final heart-breaking moments of the play when the distinction between Kilmer-Purcell and Aqua break down. Removing her glamorous costume one fabulous fake eyelash at a time, Stuart sheds his character and becomes an unrecognisable stranger as his monologue comes to a close. In these final moments, Stuart’s calm composure, slow and sorrowful voice, and apparent resignation send a shiver down the spine.

Stuart offers the audience a series of sentimental life lessons through the vehicle of Aqua, from “take things as they are, in the moment that they happen” to “the trouble with trying to be fearless is that there is always someone to come and challenge your title”. Taking note from Kilmer-Purcell’s memoirs, he holds true to the message that to be truly happy you must accept yourself for who you are. Heart breaking and brilliant, this show is sure to make you think.

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Fergus Morgan

at 11:10 on 24th Aug 2015

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With his one-man show, I Am Not Myself These Days, Tom Stuart turns over the glossy, glamourous stone of an amateur drag-queen’s life to reveal the drug-fuelled, promiscuous creepy-crawlies underneath. Based on Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s best-selling autobiography following his experiences in 1990s New York, it is a powerful show, heartbreakingly sad and stomach-churningly harrowing in equal measure, with a good dollop of humour dropped into the mix as well.

Set on a small square stage, illuminated variously and creatively by coloured spots and bright neon strips, Stuart’s performance is a writhing, shaking, shimmering chaos of high-heels, glitter and running mascara. Clad for the most part in a tight pink sequined dress with two miniature goldfish-bowls for breasts, wearing a long blonde wig and tripping around the stage in long heels, Stuart appears in the guise of Aqua, Kilmer-Purcell’s drag-queen persona. Lounging on stools, dancing violently centre-stage, collapsing to the floor, Stuart tells the story of Kilmer-Purcell’s relationship with Jack, a high-class male prostitute with a crack cocaine addiction.

It is an ugly, uncomfortable story; from relatively innocent beginnings performing drag in various New York clubs, Aqua's story nosedives down an ever-darkening rabbit hole: homophobic muggings, coke-fuelled orgies on the living room floor, and an increasing tendency to alcoholism – “absolutely no-one tells me not to drink too much.” Shocking, yet horribly predictable nonetheless, this is a story to which anyone can guess the ending.

Stuart’s writing manages to evoke the ugliness of Kilmer-Purcell’s story skilfully, but retains a sharp humour throughout that becomes an essential respite as the overdoses, k-holes, and blackouts come thicker and faster. Vivid descriptions of the story’s more shocking moments and of the constant physical pain of dressing up as a drag queen – blistered heels, compressed stomach, aching shoulders – are enormously effective. They irritate an itch that the audience cannot scratch; a fear for Aqua that cannot be assuaged from outside.

At its heart, this is not a story about drugs and abuse, no matter how prevalent they are, but of a young man struggling to come to terms with his own identity in the hustle and bustle of New York. The brief, fleeting moments of calm when she feels content – on the back of a speeding motorbike, asleep in bed with Jack, losing herself on the dancefloor – are enchanting, glorious in their lack of inhibitions.

At seventy-five minutes, I Am Not Myself These Days is perhaps a shade too long, its emphasis on the more explicit moments are perhaps a little drawn-out, and lose some of their effect as a result. But in truth, this only slightly detracts from what is otherwise a powerful, well-written and commendably acted piece.

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