In their dreams, living their full fantasy (although they admit that their fantasy doesn’t stretch to a lace-fronted, real hair wig), they flamingo across the stage in hi-vis tulle and arm-length PVC gloves like glistening glamorous bin bags. Then they deliver the superb opening song, One man’s treasure is another man’s trash. Drag is expensive and, right here, in this one-queen show, is where they realise the true cost.

Here we have Wasteman, playing at The Kings Arms in Salford as part of Greater Manchester Fringe, based on Bolton-born writer Joe Leather’s real-life experiences. In the real world, Leather has to deal with everyone else’s crap. Stuck with a pass-agg feeder boyfriend who wishes “gay men would just be men” and a day job working on the bins, everything stinks. Best friend Keiran is in a coma and drag is all boxed away like a dirty secret. If it wasn’t for Kieran’s sister Tonya, they would never get out of this stink hole. But emerging from their cocoon is glooooorious, and we were all moved by the end. And that’s because Leather, directed perfectly by Kat Bond, knows how to do it justice.

Photo by Corinne Cumming

Leather’s performance is instantly engaging, switching characters fluidly, and the writing is sharp and hilarious. Bond makes superb choices in giving us something that never for a moment seems like a monologue. At the end, they have got their lace-fronted real hair and their drag name (I won’t spoil it).

You can’t tell me anything about drag. During lockdown, I put aside my hatred of the use of the phrase ‘fish’ and dived full-on into adoration of the drag world. And it hasn’t wavered. While other people listen to Headspace to relax, I’ll watch Trixie and Katya’s UNHhhh on World of Wonder. If I fancy a period drama, I’ll go back to Paris Is Burning. If I want a documentary, I will watch the Werq The World tour backstage. If I went head-to-head with Michelle Visage on a game of Drag Race Top Trumps, I may give her a run for her money. And that machine will never stop – at present, we have Drag Race Mexico, Drag Race France, and Drag Race Mexico Binge Queens to work through. 

It’s not just the drag for me, it’s the journeys, the narratives of triumph over adversity. As Leather was on the bins in lockdown, Cherry Valentine (RIP) was a mental health nurse and Ellie Diamond worked in a drive-through. Leather’s story of an horrific hate crime reminded me of many moments on every series of Drag Race where the queens talk about their experiences, and everyone (no matter how different or competitive) will sit and listen compassionately and empathetically to a story they know all too well. This is intrinsic to a story about drag and easily sits with the big guns.

This one-hour show will be a huge hit at Edinburgh Fringe. If I was you, I’d get a ticket for Wasteman the minute they go on sale. But I reckon those of us lucky enough to see the early performances may be the only ones able to say, ‘when I went to see it, their dad was on front of house’. And if that doesn’t move you, you’re dead inside.

 The only reason I’m giving it four stars instead of five is because we need more songs and dresses. Work bitch.

By Cathy Crabb

Main image by Corinne Cumming

golden-star golden-star golden-star golden-star


For more information about Greater Manchester Fringe, click here. 

For information about The Kings Arms, click here.