Fresh from a ‘dry run’ in her hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, drag diva Polly Filla brings her hilarious and at times heartfelt new show to Melbourne audiences for Midsumma.
Kitsch in Synch presents Filla as a ‘perfectly paranoid post-modern housewife’, in a fascinating look at femininity, gender roles and mental illness.
“I’ve tried to explore the housewife stereotype – the character is very much from an age where a married woman’s role was to stay home, have babies, make dinner for her husbands and keep the house clean,” Filla told the Star Observer.
“The whole outdated notion that without a man, you’re a failure as a woman – I find it both archaic and hilarious. You’ll see my character in the throes of her quest for domestic perfection.”
The performance is lip-synched in its entirety to a soundtrack compiled from old newsreels, radio and TV commercials, rare songs and other soundbites, all re-appropriated and recontextualised. This lip-synching performance style has been Filla’s stock-in-trade throughout her drag career, but she said Kitsch in Synch still represented something of an artistic departure.
“In the past I’ve felt like I’ve had to over compensate for the fact that I’m lip-synching with a supporting cast of dancers, audio-visual presentations and a bazillion costume changes, whereas this show is the complete antithesis: one performer onstage in one costume for the duration of the performance.”
Mental illness, the pursuit of perfection, kitchen sink melodrama: there are a few distinct themes coming through in Kitsch In Synch. As Filla explained, they represent a few of her “little obsessions”.
“I’ve always thought of my drag persona as being ‘a woman on the edge’ – she walks that fine line between fabulousity and insanity. I’ve always found those female ‘nutso’ comic characters more interesting and glamorous – Cruella de Vil, Miss Hannigan from Annie, Witchiepoo from H.R. Pufnstuf and Auntie Mame amongst others. And I love camp dramatic movies where glamorous women slowly fall apart.”
In fact, many of the soundbites in the show come from said camp dramatic women: from evergreen singers like Shirley Bassey and Liza Minnelli to earlier influences like late actor/author Kay Thompson and comedienne Joan Turner.
While the lip synching was initially borne out of necessity – “Basically, I can’t sing to save myself,” Filla chuckled – it also provides an opportunity for the performer to tap directly into her inspirations.
“I adore strong female comedic roles, and those entertainers who act, sing and dance – I’ve tried to include just one song from each of my favourite performers.
“I guess you could say this show is post-modern performance art. The audience start to believe that I actually am a 1950’s housewife – in actuality, I am a 34-year old man in costume – and that the lip-synched soundtrack is actually my own voice.”