Non-Binary Electro Hour @ Camden People's Theatre
3 May 2018
Posted 4 May 2018
Written by Maggie Kuzan
Costume, rhythm, ritual, performance – Non-Binary Electro Hour is a complex and potent journey of what it is like to be in between categories. The show is conceived by Ray Filar – a non-binary, trans, queer artist performer and writer, who merges spoken word, striptease, lip-syncing and dance to peal apart the complexities of existing outside of the gender binary. Last night’s and tonight’s showing at the Camden People’s Theatre is the second instalment following a sell-out debut at the venue last September. Taking to my seat, my eyes were drawn to the costume gala on stage – an army of mannequins swathed in lavish outfits, odes to the amorphous, gummy forms of Leigh Bowery. These were to become visual cues, vehicles for Ray’s multiple aesthetic transformations, but also their becoming of different personas, as the performance ensued.
The spectacle began with Ray lip-syncing at the centre of the stage dressed in a nude harness and latex pants, with a trapeze-shaped blunt bob of pastel pinks and blues. Their drag queen makeup was the centrepiece of their appearance – a dramatic contouring of their brows and eyelids, drawing me to their eyes for the entirety of the show. This affective exchange between audience and performer was amplified through Ray’s facial gestures, elongating and drawing out their lips to pronounce every vowel, squinting and widening their eyes in keeping with the rhythm of the music, further highlighting their cascading false eyelashes and the whites of their eyes.
Throughout their performance, Ray was accompanied by two elastic dancers, at times tugging and pulling at either side of them, attempting to break them apart. Glossed in blue and pink facepaint, the dancers were physical manifestations of the gender binary, male and female, Ray’s good and evil, angel and demon (although in this instance, they are both demons). Blue and pink become sculpted into the performance; they come to embody Ray’s internal dialogue and struggle to ‘fit’ into the stifling societal structures of male and female, masculine and feminine.
The binaries assisted Ray, carrying them to the desk as their lobster phone rang. This was perhaps the most magnificent prop of the evening – a diamond encrusted fluffy lobster phone that was so glorious, it was no surprise that when Ray answered its brilliant ringing they were greeted with Marlene Dietrich on the other line. What followed naturally was Ray slipping on one of the outfits aligned on stage - a tailcoat, top hat and long velvet gloves, and began lip-syncing along to Falling In Love Again. The song evolved into a pounding techno beat, as Ray gyrated and revolved around the stage. As with any cabaret act, sound is an integral part of the show – in this case, mirroring the performer’s fluid gender identity. Their body glides and ripples on stage, keeping with Dietrich’s rich timbre and the thumping club house rhythm.
The lobster phone rang another two times and the audience were greeted by two more archetypal cultural pillars of gender and sexuality – queer theorist Judith Butler and queer thespian and raconteur Quentin Crisp. Voice was the vessel through which Ray skilfully transitioned between Butler’s clear American accent to Crisp’s incredibly posh English drawl. Ray dissected their identities on stage, unable to side with their inauguration to the revered echelons of gay culture. Pop star Katy Perry’s song I Kissed A Girl also become material for Ray’s critique, as they took apart the anthem capitalising on queer experience. The song was slowed down, skewing the pitch to a warped, yawning bellow, as Ray dragged and thrust their body soaked in the glow of red light.
As Ray professes in their culminating scenes, gender is a kind of becoming, simulated in the sensory voyage of the evening’s performance. For the finale, Ray threw on their last outfit – a superfluous ruff studded with fairy lights and a Gibson electric guitar to sing their own song, a soft lyrical anthem, where they laid their voice bare to the audience. Ray encouraged us all to peer under their seats to flick the switch on their electric tea-lights and join in. We were all thrust into Ray’s celebration of the entangled, messy web of living beyond the gender binary.