August 13, 2012 in General
The last time I interviewed Patrick Graham was some years ago.Ā Heād just directed an extraordinarily funny and clever adaptation of āThe Comedy of Errorsā for an outdoor Summer Shakespeare season.
āItās a pretty broad, knockabout farce that I knew would appeal to an audience that wasnāt necessarily Shakespearean scholars,ā he told me at the time. āI knew I could do something with it that made it accessible to a modern audience. Also, itās not a play thatās done very frequently, and I like to play with old texts a bit. I wanted to choose a text that wasnāt very familiar, so people didnāt have certain expectations.ā
Itās safe to say no-one could have expected this. Grahamās āComedy of Errorsā was Shakespeare by way of Kath & Kim and Fred Dagg, with doses of āLittle Britainā grotesquery and āMonty Pythonā surrealism. āIt has very absurdist, silly characters,ā he said. āIt stems from an Italian comic background which I taught all the actors ā Commedia Dell’arte. Itās a specific style of comedy that plays on the grotesqueries of life.ā
At the time of that play, heād recently graduated from Auckland Universityās Creative and Performing Arts school with a first class honours masters degree.Ā In subsequent years, heās gone on to write and direct his own plays, often gay-themed, which have divided audiences.
Those plays have also featured lifeās grostequeries, such as āWhite Trash Omnibusā, in which he played an unsympathetic, lumbering drunk within āa bleak plot full of sex, drugs, toilet scenes, violence and incestuous liaisons.ā (GayNZ.com)
I saw the play when it first came out, and left not knowing what to think.Ā The GayNZ.com quote above was an accurate summation of the storyline, and of course weāre not supposed to laugh at such things.Ā Weāre supposed to turn away.
At the time, I had yet to be introduced to the work of John Waters, and that quote could equally apply to the content of his early films, which still today evoke a ***WTF*** from the uninitiated.
I wasnāt familiar with Patrickās drag alter-ego, Patty Haag, until I saw her featured in Jocelen Janonās photo exhibition and book āAlter Egoā.Ā Patrick says he was surprised to be asked to take part.
āIām not used to people wanting to photograph my drag character because sheās quite ugly,ā he says.
When I saw Patty pictured alongside the sensitive, thoughtful and passionate restraint in the real-life portrait of Patrick, John Waters sprung immediately to mind.
āThat was achieved directly from that tradition of drag, sheās not the pretty drag queen that lip-syncs on the stage at [Auckland gay nightclub] Family, sheās definitely from Divine,ā he says.
āI did a lot of work early on in my career exploring grotesque theatre and clowning, so thereās a lot of that in Patty. Ā To begin with, she was a political exploration of what drag was, so I used to have la beard or hairy legs.Ā There was definitely some part of me that was masculine that I would flaunt.
āIād colour my blue and have a massive bright blue wig and things like that, with a mixture of male and female clothing.ā
Patty would appear in a number of settings.Ā She appeared in Aucklandās gay pride parade, Hero.Ā Sheād be asked to do private parties and theatre openings, because she was so avant-garde.
āI used to pull meat off peopleās bodies and pretend it was gore.Ā Iād exaggerate my weight, sticking my stomach out so I looked a bit pregnant.ā
The political has given way over the years to the sad clown figure.Ā āSheās like a grumpy old cleaning lady now.Ā The sort that comes on stage after the performer and has to pick up the discarded costumes, and doesnāt really want to be there or touch anything because she thinks thereās germs on it.ā
These days, Patty is more of a genuine alter-ego that he feels more detached from.Ā As heās gotten older, he feels heās gotten less like her.
āI used to be quite a lot like Patty in my everyday life, but now Iām quieter, my clothing is not as loud.Ā Ā Patty is the big explosion of colour and loudness and rudeness.ā
Having developed the chaotic character from a desire not to conform to gender expectations, the alter-ego of Patty gave Patrick free rein to go over-the-top without feeling any personal embarrassment afterwards.
āI donāt associate it with Patrick,ā he says.Ā āThereās pictures of me onstage losing my briefs and looking horrendously trashy.Ā If I had a part of me going āoh my God, I canāt believe youāre doing thatā then it wouldnāt work.”