Topsie Redfern's Crystal Balls ★★★ Two Brewers | July 28 - 30, 2021


Nathan Kiley and Sarah Chew have written Topsie Redfern's Crystal Balls which is performed by Topsie's alter ego, Nathan Kiley himself. It is part autobiography and part the story of his grandmother's life, the renowned fortune teller, Madame Olga, who numbered Nancy Astor and Alan Turing among her clientele. We learn plenty about Nathan's development from "shiny little girly boy" in Yorkshire to Topsie, the drag queen appearing in "Chicago" in London's West End. Subtly accompanied by pianist, Conor Fogel, Kiley sings very well. Highlights include Sondheim's haunting "Anyone Can Whistle," referencing the long held belief that gay men can't whistle and Carmen's "Habanera" sung in full-on falsetto. Drawing on the experience in "Chicago," there is a show stopping reworking of "Cell Block Tango" emphasising the horrors of gay hate crime. This is not a 'Drag Show' as such and in the second half Kiley wears jeans and a T-shirt. The tone is frequently far removed from the cheap innuendo that is sometimes a hallmark of drag and can be quite melancholy at times. The show gets to the heart of the young man who was to become Topsie Redfern. The production isn't faultless: with two halves coming in at almost an hour each, it is a little long and also suffers from Kiley needing to read some of the script. Perhaps, a radio mic would would have permitted him more freedom and allowed for more subtle use of sound. However, with a little polishing, this could become an important and highly entertaining addition to the canon of gay biographical shows.

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Photo by Flavia Fraser-Cannon.

Rated: ★★★

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