A decadent retelling of a tormented love story that combines theatre and drag at Summerhall, Alma, a Human Voice is a unique and refined piece by a seasoned Italian company.
Nina’s Drag Queens invite us to step back in time with Alma, A Human Voice: a solo drag performance that graciously narrates and interprets two stories of love and madness. The first that Lorenzo Piccolo interrogates is that of Alma Mahler, lover of the painter Oskar Kokoschka, and the other is that of a desperate lover’s phone call in Jean Cocteau’s play La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice).
Piccolo enters the space with a red suitcase, filled with wigs and elegant dresses that he uses to recreate the ghost of a woman locked up in a small room, waiting and waiting for her lover to call. Dimmed lights create a claustrophobic, dramatic atmosphere that perfectly frames the action that always focuses around the old black phone, which the protagonist carries around, throws away and then picks up again at every ring. It’s the perfect metaphor of a lover you cannot really help but run back to.
The performer switches between narrating and interpreting, as the piece is a pastiche that includes a retelling of Alma’s story and adaptations of Cocteau’s play, including recordings of operas and films in French, English and Italian. Piccolo is a joy to watch embody different divas, lip-syncing to different voices and languages and it is interesting to see how the company have adapted the traditional drag queen practice of lip-syncing for their means.
It is a good style exercise that does something innovative in terms of form and concept, but I wonder if it could have done more with its message. Alma, A Human Voice is a wonderful tribute, but seems to be dominated by the male gaze: the story of muses turned into dolls, of female lovers that appear tragically charming in their suffering. I would have loved for this piece to distance itself from a narrative that romanticises unhappy women, and perhaps move forward allowing the voice of a man dressed as a woman, a drag queen, a human, to break free from these conventions.
Having said that, Alma, A Human Voice is unlike anything I have ever seen. I would keep an eye out for Nina’s Drag Queens, as they have a refined and unique style that blends arts classic with pop culture. I am really excited to see what else they create in the future.