La JohnJospeh is the Boy in a Dress in this flamboyant autobiographical performance. Additionally, he is the writer, focal performer and co-producer in this bleakly humorous, captivating yet self-indulgent piece.
The next two hours span from his birth in the early eighties, where his mother named him following the 1982 visit of Pope John Joseph, to his early turbulent life growing up on a council estate in Liverpool, with his seven younger siblings, mother and one of her eight husbands. We watch him cope through a strict Catholic education as a homosexual adolescent, and finally to his life as a young adult, making mischief in London and New York. The show is a series of monologues with pop song interludes, sung by La JohnJoseph and supported by pianist Jordan Hunt.
LaJohn Joseph’s monologues are brutally honest although occasionally overwritten, deflecting the honesty’s impact. Many witticisms and beautiful sentences are strewn beneath unnecessary words.
The one other cast member, Anne Lewenhaupt played a myriad of disposable characters. All of which existed to prop up and heighten La JohnJoseph’s character: from his female alter ego (however only physically; she had few lines throughout the entire play), to an abusive, homophobic vagrant to a figure of the Virgin Mary.
She is largely mute throughout the performance; however her striking appearance and LaJohn Joseph’s demand of the stage dampen this factor.
La JohnJoseph is undoubtedly a charismatic singer and commands charge of the audience’ attention throughout. He is not; however, a natural actor or playwright, his transition from child to grown adult saw little change in language or expressions.
The play is an amalgamation of all three of La JohnJoseph’s solo memoir shows. If you enjoyed these (I Happen to Like New York, Notorious Beauty and Underclass Hero) particularly the latter, you will not be disappointed with Boy in a Dress. However, for those who think four autobiographical productions to err on the wrong side of egotistical, this show may not be for you.
The production shows insight and innovation, the set effortlessly transforms from a public toilet in Liverpool to the skyline of New York through creative directorial choices with lighting and chalk. Unfortunately, a number of the artistic choices were not explained, apart from being visually appealing.
The weights of his turbulent periods are most evident when he sings; his talent definitely lies with his voice. The frequent intermission of popular songs (including Guns ‘n’ Roses, Judy Garland) adds sensitivity and melancholy to what could easily become a performance consumed by a depressingly glib recollection of youth.
La JohnJoseph’s mother features heavily in the piece in a consistently negative light, despite him openly admitting that they share many undesirable characteristics. She appeared in fleeting shards, when it was most convenient for JohnJoseph. An uncomfortable scene displayed her long line of unsuccessful husbands alongside caricature images of men with Benny Hill music, making her akin to a pantomime villain than a troubled woman with substantial issues.
Boy in a Dress is an enjoyable, aesthetically and aurally pleasing show that unfortunately has an irksome tendency to lean towards pretence and even further towards narcissism.