It's a cabaret royal flush, a winning hand, a quartet of delight. Alfie Ordinary; Ginger Johnson; Len Blanco; Reuben Kaye. What a family tree. Daniel Perks reviews these four winning performers at the Fringe:

There’s a drag prince, a drag queen, a drag king and the ace in the hole. It’s a Royal Flush, a winning cabaret hand at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019. Dealing in the modern male feminist, preaching self-acceptance, highlighting a slow mental decline and delving into the darkest recesses of debauchery, these four royal acts cater for all tastes.

Alfie Ordinary – Help! I Think I Might Be Fabulous

Help Fabulous Gilded Balloon
Alfie Ordinary’s Help! I Think I Might Be Fabulous

In a fictitious world, royal drag prince Alfie Ordinary identifies as fabulous. The son of a drag queen, he goes to a fabulous school (Madame LeCoq’s) for fabulous people.

And refreshingly, Alfie does not shy away from this in the slightest. This drag prince owns his identity, knows his style and is unashamedly confident in his ability. Alfie jumps in feet first – Help! I Think I Might Be Fabulous is a sparkly skip down a glittery lane.

As per the school motto, and coincidentally the La Cage Aux Folles closing number, “I Am What I Am”.

And who might be on hand to join him on this journey down the rainbow painted road? Why Whitney Houston and Bette Midler of course! Puppets, that is. But Alfie knows how to play to a shtick, teasing out the glorious comedy from each diva and their showbiz tropes.

Camp as Christmas songs from all the queer favourites intersperse the storytelling – Sugababes, Village People, Tiffany, Xtina… Alfie collectively fosters connectivity within the room, an atmosphere that invites rather than shuns.

Help! I Think I Might Be Fabulous could in many ways be a children’s show, with oohs and aahs and ebullient audience partcipation in spades. But this is more for the grown-up kids, hand-holding its audience through the really-not-that-confusing world of gender and sexual identity without ever mentioning either directly.

★★★★☆

Playing at Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre until 25 August 2019.

Ginger Johnson’s Happy Place

Ginger Johnson's Happy Place Pleasance Dome
Ginger Johnson’s Happy Place

Royal drag queen Ginger Johnson has entered her happy place. Not by choice, but still a welcome escape. Sometimes there is the desire to disassociate – not wanting to die, but simply not be around for a while.

“What is the point of trying to survive”?

Ginger Johnson’s Happy Place starts with a frenetic video feed, as Johnson forcibly enters her own subconscious. She has a freneticism manifesting itself as a children’s TV host, overly exaggerated and desperate for approval. A couple extra dashes of nervous energy will make the Happy Place less like its name and ultimately a more impactful piece.

Johnson is not alone – puppets and audience participation are all part of her attempts to gain approval. Again, these work to a point, a hit-and-miss approach. But Johnson is clever in how she presents material, warping topics intended to educate and placate to make them anything but comforting or peaceful.

Then there’s a shift – the letter A in this case becomes a gateway to the troubles. Who knew that spelling words of the day could activate such an alteration in atmosphere and accentuate the anxiety of an otherwise affable activity?

The happy place warps – laughter effortlessly intermingles with sadness, as Johnson’s clowning moves into an intentionally disturbing absurdity. The spiral downwards is still occurring but the happy place is no longer a respite. By forcing mental health into categories, it can no longer cater for anyone feeling low in any form. Now it must serve a function and cannot cope.

Ginger Johnson’s Happy Place works because it ultimately doesn’t. The show is powerful because it deconstructs the safety of this ex-haven, once a place to hide from the troubles and now just another waiting room before the inevitable. And as Johnson wakes up, she realises that maybe she doesn’t want to after all.

★★★☆☆

Playing at Pleasance Dome until 26 August 2019.

Len Blanco’s Firing Blancs

Len Blanco Firing Blancs Charteris Centre
Len Blanco’s Firing Blancs

Royal drag king of the 90s, heartthrob Len Blanco is on a comeback tour. And now he’s woke…

He practices mindfulness, “I have a wonderful heart”,

he talks about women more, so he must be a feminist,

he’s vegan and drinks water, “so pure”.

What a transformation since the hedonistic days of that 90s boy band, M4.

Or, not really…

Blanco’s setup and takedown of the boy band generation, now all grown up and trying to relive their glory days, is detailed and damning. Blanco overhypes the tropes to show how shallow these celebrities were in their youth, and how time is not always a great healer.

It’s the perfect material for a drag king to eviscerate with intelligence. Blanco takes full advantage.

Lots of the set is fired out at breakneck pace, tiny pieces of satire peppering every piece of Blanco’s speech, stage presence and audience interaction. It’s an impressive overall performance, but much is missed with such a machine gun delivery.

Firing Blancs ends with the inevitable crash and burn, aptly highlighting how people who label themselves as “woke” are often anything but. Despite a drawn-out conclusion, Firing Blancs ends on a high.

A mash-up of “Elastic Heart” and “Any Dream Will Do”? Inspired.

★★★☆☆

Playing at Just The Tonic at The Charteris Centre until 24 August 2019.

Reuben Kaye

Reuben Kaye EdFringe 2019
Reuben Kaye

Reuben Kaye originates from that forbidden places in the soul that you try so hard to keep hidden, until a back alley on a dark and stormy night inadvertently reveals your innermost devilish desires and lets those sinful demons free.

He also originates from Australia. Same thing really.

Near the end of his show, Kaye starts his material. With the pre-amble and songs and audience participation, he pays so much attention to his audience that he’s seemingly forgotten the greatest thing of all – himself. Stories of his birth, his parents, his youth are all precursors to the man he has become – deliciously decadent and sensationally sassy, the very incarnation of sin, lust and envy rolled into one.

Mmmm.

But more than his show, Kaye has an identity. His brand of cabaret is powerful and empowering, cleverly detailed and precisely crafted. He walks alongside his audience, descending into the bowels of hell hand in hand. Some come reluctantly at first, but all end up bathing in the fiery pit.

Kaye is a royal dark lord of showmanship, a man who you don’t dare to look in the eye and yet can’t stop staring at. Together with his band, The Kaye Holes, this hour-long set flashes by, seemingly thrown together and yet micro-constructed down to every hair flick and wry smile.

Reuben Kaye truly is the Ace in the deck.

★★★★☆

Playing at Assembly Checkpoint until 25 August 2019.

For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.