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24 June 2012

Ashraf Johaardien as Ms Rachel Tension
There’s plenty of food for thought in Ashraf Johaardien's new play, Clora (South African gay slang, or ‘Gayle’, for a "Coloured" person), which I saw at PopArt recently and which will be at the Grahamstown Festival.

Under all the fun and ga(y)mes is a serious message about homophobia, intolerance and crimes both of apparent indifference and actual hatred.

A two hander, Clora is a mini-musical, ok, a cabaret, featuring Daniel Geddes at the gay bar piano and Ashraf Johaardien as Ms Rachel Tension, a singing drag queen. This is Johaardien's first production in which he sings, and a pleasant job he makes of the singing too.

Johaardien is easy on the eye and he has great legs, and the way they looked in those fishnets reminds me that I heard tell that most stocking ads actually featured men's legs, not women's. Not that Geddes' legs were ugly either. Hmm. I believe the story about stocking ads.

The pair mix up a pot of parodied show tunes, gay anthems and comments to and about the audience and serve it with panache and a side of Gayle, which you will learn if you don't know it already.

Ms Rachel Tension moves from being a stereotypical drag queen into being a real person in the short space of a theatrical production. It is not every artist who can pull of such a feat, but Johaardien, directed by Jade Bowers, does just that.

Bowers says in the press release that they are “exploring the notion that gender itself is an imitation that has no natural or original basis”.

The creative team asks “a really big question: does drag performance in fact reinforce hetero-normativity by performing hyper-femininity from a masculine perspective or is there the potential for drag to be a celebration, affirmation and activation of difference, dissidence and defiance?”

Johaardien and Bowers have worked together before, first on Johaardien's award-winning play Salaam and earlier this year on the one-man iHAMLET.

I saw Clora, written by Ashraf Johaardien, designed and directed by Jace Bowers and featuring Ashraf Johaardien and Daniel Geddes in its recent short run at the PopArt, Main Street Life Building, Fox Street in Johannesburg.

The production will now tour to the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown where it will play at the Albany Cabaret Club as follows: 28 June 21:00, 29 June 17:00, 30 June 11:00, 01 July 13:00 and 02 July 19:00. Book online at Computicket.

Moira de Swardt

Moira de Swardt is a freelance journalist. Contact her via moirads@wol.co.za. Check out her arts, culture and entertainment blog.