Amanda Monroe @ The Spare Room
11:00pm, Mon 12 Mar 2012
With the suggestive title and presence in the “Comedy” section and flashy advertising and references to Drags Aloud, you’d expect Mangina to be a somewhat seedy comical pisstake of life as a drag queen.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Whilst there certainly is an occasional humorous snippet in Mangina, the bulk of the performance takes place in Amanda Monroe’s former life – that of a largely unhappy, and definitely troubled, man. Starting from her earliest memories – as a three-year-old boy, wanting to play with his sister’s white dress – through childhood, where her desire was to be the sporty academic that her parents desired, there’s obvious lines of conflict in Amanda’s upbringing; and when she speaks frankly about her parents being worried about her sexuality (back in the less liberal fifties & sixties), there’s a real sense of… well, maybe not menace, but certainly pointed concern… and of a projected wrongness.
Escaping from small-town Australia into Sydney, she encountered the scene surrounding Les Girls… and then she discovered that drugs clouded that part of her psyche that still wanted her sister’s white dress, making things easier to deal with. Cue a descent from dope to LSD to heroin, and thence to an overdose; recovery, taking stock, relapse, another overdose.
After nearly dying for the second time, Amanda tells us, the feeling of cheating death was palpable; she decides that her male façade actually has died and is reborn… as the woman she always wanted to be (and which some of her drag friends had always recognised in her). As soon as she starts dressing as a woman, the emotional weight lifts.
To this point, Amanda’s performance had been… well, very raw, with no-holds-barred descriptions of the trials and tribulations of the male part of her life; there’s the odd humorous aside, but there’s no doubting that these were not happy memories. But once her story reaches the stage of her physical transformation, her tales have a richer vein of comedy in them: despite the pain in the procedures, the manner in which she details her facial and breast surgeries is almost joyous. Hearing Amanda describe how getting face-work done (first Botox, and then losing the “Louis Vuittons” – the bags under her eyes) made her feel real in the mirror… well, that was just uplifting stuff.
Whilst Monroe’s narrative could do with some tweaking – there’s a few threads that don’t really go anywhere, and the pacing can be a little uneven – it’s a wonderfully compelling story of a person finding their way in the world. It’s just a shame that the surprise of such a universally positive message is hidden behind the lurid suggestions of the advertising; I’d hate to think what a boozy Friday night crowd would have done within the tight confines of The Spare Room.