After a drag, give me drag

Luke Jennings, The Observer
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Classical ballet brings Mavin Khoo back to earth, while men in tutus are as hilarious as ever

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo Peacock Theatre, London WC2

Every time Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo arrive, I feel anxious. Is this really as funny as I remember or has the joke finally had its day? The Trocks are a New York-based company of male dancers who perform the ballerina classics en travestie. They’ve been going for 30 years now, and every season the shows are more extreme. This time, they kicked off with a riotous Swan Lake, replete with hairy-chested swans, a world-weary Siegfried in a tacky blond wig and a tiny, petulant Benno (Siegfried’s ‘friend’), who loses his temper and starts kicking the cygnets when Odette gets all the attention.

Add in much eye-rolling, upstaging and a hissy, clawing fight for the bouquet at the curtain-call and you have some flavour of the occasion. And it’s as funny as ever. By the end of the evening, you’re exhausted from laughing, not because it’s intrinsically funny to see a man in a frock – a thousand tiresome drag queens have scotched that theory – but because in all of this excess, there’s a core of absolute emotional truth.

Classical ballet constantly teeters on the edge of the absurd. Whether it’s a raddled, beak-nosed Anna Pavlova insisting on performing or, rather, executing the Dying Swan one last time, a hatchet-faced Marie Taglioni despotically bullying her rebellious colleagues in Pas de Quatre, or a prim giraffe in a mauve tutu and librarian’s glasses thundering her way through, these mad, self-deluding creatures are just a rogue chromosome from reality.

By giving them such affectionate flesh and letting them run such unabashed riot, the Trocks send us back to the originals with renewed appreciation and fidelity.