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  • Chris O'Rourke

International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival 2023: Wasteman

Joe Leather in Wasteman. Image by Corinne Cumming


By day, he scours the grim streets searching for litter. By night, he dons his secret identity to fight for truth, justice and the glamorous way. Eyelashes thick as awnings, dress clutching in all the tight places, eye make-up a cascading rainbow, the aspiring Miss Stoke 2023 rises from the shadows singing her latest, original composition. In Joe Leather’s darling Wasteman, life in a northern town is given a major make-over by a bin man with a bit of a secret. Proving big cities don’t always have the best stories.

Like those fairy stories, no pun intended, certain folk seem terrified of drag queens telling young children, Wasteman has a simple premise you’ve heard a thousand times before. The down on his luck hero, looking for love, rent, and a wig made with real human hair, tells his confessional tale as he journeys from resistance towards acceptance, and maybe even redemption for a life less lived. Chucking his better self into a cardboard box and burying it in the back of the attic, Joe has lived a half-life telling lies to everyone, especially himself. But courage comes calling in the form of a Tarot reading. Should he step out into the spotlight and let the world know who he really is? Should he make a move on the hot doctor who could get you pregnant just by looking at you? Should he revisit the past to face what happened that night?

Joe Leather in Wasteman. Image by Corinne Cumming

Relishing in kitschy, bitchy similes, Wasteman’s writing proves strong, but hints at greater depths and a writer capable of going there. Story serving up a series of short, snappy scenes, like flicking through a time stamped, photo album, which director Kat Bond handles in a muddling, uneven fashion. If individual scenes often land with power, the unsteady pace and lack of cohesion mean the whole never quite comes together as best as it could. Suggesting the director could have challenged the writer more. Even so, the feel-good ending forgives much, even if it is a little convenient. Thematically, if the drag queen's journey has already been covered in works such as Torch Song Trilogy, what makes Wasteman distinct, as opposed to recycled, is Leather himself. Working the audience like intimate confidants, Leather trades glitz for gold without sacrificing on the glamour, telling his story with real heart. Ably assisted by Chazz Redhead’s smart and sharply executed sound design. Leather taking a very smart approach. If one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, Leather understands trash is the real treasure in Wasteman. The everyday grit and monotony of life in the north of England, which gets sprinkled with glitter. The alarm clock drudgery of work, the moments you wish you could take back, the minutes and minutiae of a world where gay men who can’t just be men find drag allows them step out of a masculinity they don’t always feel comfortable in.

Running as part of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival 2023, now celebrating its twenty anniversary, Wasteman is a genuine delight, with Leather a dream in drag. Many queens talk about wanting to spread joy when what they really want is more attention. Leather craves that too, but the joy he seeks to share is genuine, making Wasteman well worth your attention. At a time when making yourself heard can be hard, International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival 2023, with its punkish, underground club, DIY energy, gives gay voices a platform to test their material. If the remainder of the festival is anything like Wasteman, it’s shaping up to be a good one. Heartfelt, light hearted, and genuine good fun.

Wasteman by Joe Leather, running as part of International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival 2023, runs at DV8 Bar, James Street until May 6.


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