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Taylor Mac review at Hackney Empire, London – ‘one of a kind’

Taylor Mac at Hackney Empire, London. Photo: Kevin Yatarola

New York performance artist Taylor Mac isn’t one for easy labels – and even resists gender pronouns, so likes to be referred to not as he or she but as judy. But Judy – as in Garland – isn’t the half of a drag persona that is like a delicious, dangerous blend of Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Lady Gaga and Boy George, a fiercely politicised, engaged and sometimes enraged social commentator, as well as a frequently thrilling song stylist.

A heckler once said that Mac was like George Formby with lipstick, and there’s a touch of the music hall about the performance, too – not least in the glorious surrounds of Hackney Empire where the show launched this year’s London International Festival of Theatre.

Terms like heteronormative, patriarchy and global capitalist economy are bandied about, but really this evening of vividly performed songs seeks to do something more than take cheap shots at easy targets: it is about blending the entire theatre together and creating a sense of community.

As such, it is almost like a group therapy session, in which we’re encouraged to let go go of the past “and dream the culture forwards”. It’s set to wonderful music from Rodgers and Hammerstein (you’ll never have heard a sweeter The Surrey With the Fringe on Top, with two members of the audience conscripted to be the horses pulling the cart) to Patti Smith.

Mac is currently creating a 24-hour durational performance A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, in which some 240 songs from the last 240 years of the United States history will take place in New York later this year, but which will also be broken down into more manageable chunks. This LIFT show was a preview; a ferocious, fearless and fabulous evening and a taster of what already feels like an important and exhilarating project.

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LIFT gets a stylish and passionate lift-off from a one-of-a-kind New York performance artist