BORN NAKED, currently onstage at the Baxter Theatre Centre, sets out to tell two converging stories: the coming-of-age journey of a young drag queen, Blaq Widow (Kopo Jake Nathane) and her drag mother, Queen Bling (Lethabo Bereng), who stands on the precipice of her own transgender rebirth. Directed by Kirsten Harris, it promises to be an assault by story-telling with all the glitz, glamour and blinding colour and glitter one would imagine from a tale that has the potential to have you holding on to your wigs.
I’m torn as I write this review. I walked into the theatre desperately wanting to love BORN NAKED. Sadly, the play left me wanting it to be more impactful. It is bold and colourful and a whole bunch of fun, but just feels a bit like a lost opportunity to have all that and a truly punchy narrative.
As can so easily happen with plays that are workshopped or devised by a creative team, BORN NAKED’s identity feels a bit all over the place. It starts off with a pre-show, as Blaq Widow mingles with audience members making their way into the theatre. Then Blaq does a stand-up routine before the show turns into a lip-sync showcase that will have any RuPaul fan squealing with delight. During this vibe, we meet Queen Bling and learn of the moment their paths crossed: each impacting the life of the other in a way that goes far deeper than just a mere one-two-three face-beat and kiki. With the play only being 70 minutes long, by the time it gets to the heart of the show – the story of the real-life Queen Bling, Thapelo Makhutle and her tragic end – it all becomes a truncated flashback, with the cast having spent most of the runtime setting up the relationship of the two vibrant queens.
Amidst the fun and shenanigans of the larger-than-life personas on stage, BORN NAKED misses the mark as it only briefly tells of, instead of truly engaging with, the intolerance experienced by transgender drag queen Thapelo Makhutle who was violently murdered and mutilated because she embraced her truth. That is the narrative that wholeheartedly demands to be explored with all the heart and glamour one can throw at a story that is equal parts celebration of self and identity, and commentary and judgment on a heinous hate-crimes.
The real heart of the show is revealed and passes so quickly that I left the theatre spinning slightly, wondering what the purpose of the whole experience was. I personally wanted to learn more about the struggle, of the heart and soul, of the tears that give strength to drag queens who so glamorously wear their bedazzled armour. Overall, the play just felt disjointed to give me much of that. that. All the many creative voices at play in this production results in BORN NAKED rushing to give expression to too many conceptual ideas (all potentially great if individually developed), and so drowns out the truth informing the narrative.
Regardless, if you are in the mood for some live RuPaul style lip-syncing flair and fun, then head on over to Baxter Theatre, have a kiki and a drink before the time, and go enjoy the vibrant personas of Blaq Widow and Queen Bling as they share their sequin dreams. You have until 30 April 2022 to see the show, with tickets available online through Webtickets.