Most of us have begrudgingly sat through a nativity play; feigned interest as a nephew plays shepherd six in a mediocre school staging of the Christmas tale. So when I sit down to watch Triple Threat – Lucy McCormick’s interpretation of Christ’s “birth, life, death, and a bit after death” – I’m certain I’ve got a handle on at least the first section of the narrative.
Then she walks on stage wielding a large purple vibrator.The hour-long critically acclaimed piece, which was an unexpected success with the critics at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, hits the Soho Theatre in London on March 28, using “a nu-wave holy trinity of dance, power ballads, and absurdist art” to retell one of the most famous stories in human history. It is nothing like a primary school nativity.
The hour-long critically acclaimed piece, which was an unexpected success with the critics at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, hits the Soho Theatre in London on March 28, using “a nu-wave holy trinity of dance, power ballads, and absurdist art” to retell one of the most famous stories in human history. It is nothing like a primary school nativity.
“The thing is I’ve always been fascinated by religion,” explains McCormick, when we meet at an East London café to talk, “and I also have a lot of respect for it.” Starting life on London’s queer cabaret circuit, the show was initially inspired by a Quaker phrase: “god is in everyone.”
“It’s the idea of god being one’s own moral conscience, this higher thing within yourself that deems how good or bad you are, that it’s yourself you have to answer to,” she earnestly explains.
A modern retelling
These ideas are quite a traditional take away from theological teaching, yet McCormick’s creation is anything but. Whether she’s serenading the baby Jesus with a Lady Gaga anthem, or crowd surfing almost naked as the show comes to a close, this is very much a modern, stylized retelling.
McCormick’s background is in musical theatre; dance training as a teenager inspired her to apply to the East15 drama school in Southend. “I wanted to be an actor back then, and that’s very much an influence on the show,” she explains, biting on a croissant. “When I was at drama school I realized I really liked devising and making my own work.”
It was only when she moved to London that McCormick found a home in the queer, alternative cabaret scene, making short club acts to be performed at nights like Duckie at the historic Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
“I feel like now I have dual inspirations,” she says. “One is the musical theatre, the quite stagey and theatrical singing and dancing. And then all the performance art stuff I became interested in after drama school. My work now really is a mishmash of both.”
Triple Threat is certainly a mishmash; an unapologetically in-your-face concoction of acting, dance, and song, that weaves together pop culture references and the story of Christ in a way that you never thought possible, or perhaps wanted.
The blend of religion and queer cabaret might at first glance seem peculiar; religion and the LGBT community don’t always go hand-in-hand. McCormick believes they’ve more in common than you’d expect. “It’s the scope of these stories that made me want to work with them,” she suggests. “These core themes of love, faith, death, and grief. Putting those in the club environment was so satisfying, and I think so apt.”
She has a point. The parallels between church and queer clubbing go beyond both providing a space for community: worshippers in both environments are offered a sense of belonging; of something better; of comforting and almost ritualistic sights, sounds, and smells.
“These spaces are my church,” she adds, nodding in agreement. “The show is about this being my religion. I thought long and hard about how to retell this story. What are my references, my hymns, my prayers?”
It’s a process that McCormick embarked on with director Ursula Martinez , and her two co-performers – underwear-clad male assistants who sit visibly in the wings awaiting her instructions and are at her constant beck and call.
A platform for her work
“Also I just wanted the scope, quite frankly, to have more stage time as a performer,” says an unapologetic McCormick. “It’s my first show like this, my first-hour long show under my own name. I wanted to challenge myself to do that and to hold the stage.”
“On a more serious level though, the narrative of the New Testament is actually a premise, an excuse for a lot of ‘stuff’ to happen,” she says. “There isn’t one message, and the idea of the message is really played with in the show. After you’ve gone through all of this ridiculous stuff, trying to find a core meaning in it is a little bit sent up.”
Despite her nonchalance, there’s plenty to be taken from the piece: ideas of sexuality, femininity, success, and the value of popular culture all come to the fore, but it’s McCormick’s approach to sex and nudity that is particularly striking. She’s in various states of undress throughout the performance, while a sex act is performed live on stage.
“It’s all about reappropriating that imagery, recontextualising it, having my own agency,” she explains. “With everything that happens in the show, I’m always in control. I’m always directing the action; either doing stuff to myself or requesting from one of my helpers.”
If anything the female form is used as part of the set, the body used to help further a narrative. “It’s about desexualising my body, and using it how I want.”
She has just performed the show in Glasgow and Lisbon and is now preparing for her London run.
A second coming?
“I’m starting to make new material already,” McCormick tells me, when I ask what can follow a no-holds-barred retelling of the birth of Christ. “And I’ll be testing it out in clubs again.”
Plenty of people are offering to help her: she’ll be a resident artist at Duckie later this year, and another residency at the Hackney Showrooms is on the cards. “I don’t want to think too much about the endgame though,” she interjects.
“I never planned on making a show that’s an hour-long product. Triple Threat was never about that. I really want to try and enjoy making again, testing ideas out and not searching for that second hit show… because it will come, obviously,” she grins dryly, knowing she can rely on talent, not just blind faith, for her second coming.
Lucy McCormick: Triple Threat played at the Soho Theatre, London, from March 28 to April 22 (+020 7478 0100)
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.