This is one of the few occasions where I can say with a high degree of certainty that you’ve never seen anything like this show. Andrew Doherty is the irreverent Kaelan Trough, a ditsy, bumbling real estate agent who has fallen in love with a mysterious client. And good news for all! They’re having a baby! We’re invited to their Gender Reveal Party, featuring all the classics like Gender Reveal balloons, an absent husband, and a Powerpoint presentation.
It isn’t long before the Powerpoint crashes, revealing a file called ‘Gay Witch Sex Cult’ on Kaelan’s computer. After a couple of Baphomet screams and Princess Diana jumpscares, we’re invited to learn more about Kaelan’s most recent project, travelling to a mysterious island off the coast of England, with an even more mysterious past.
The humour in this piece is absolutely ridiculous. Doherty fumbles his way through jokes, but not in the way you’re thinking, with absolute intention. He flips and fancies around the stage, which is his playground for the entire sixty minutes. The storytelling style is zany and wacky, reminiscent of listening to your twelve year old cousin make up a load of nonsense at a family party, leaving you sat there simply to be bemused and astounded at the crazy, loose storylines he invents. Thankfully, the piece is injected with Doherty’s quirky charm, and little moments of cleverness slip through to invite you back in to the narrative.
Jokes are abstracted from Kaelan’s clearly slightly unhinged mind, with tension building purely because you’re wondering what on Earth is going to come out of his mouth next. The resulting effect is one of absolute captivation – the audience spends their entire time entranced, as we listen to Kaelan verbally abuse an elderly ferryman, dive into trapdoors in abandoned hospitals, and flee from scythe-wielding maniacs. Kaelan regularly counters the audience’s reactions with a bewildered glance at people with loud laughs, or sticking his tongue out after making a queer pop culture reference. The whole persona quickly wraps you up, and it isn’t long before even those initially uneasy at the style of humour relax into the piece’s overall sense of twisted cheekiness.
The Fourth Wall is absolutely in tatters from the moment we enter the room. You’re stamped with a pentagram as you enter the theatre, Kaelan regularly stops to abuse the technician that he hired for the ‘Gender Reveal Party’, and a coffin-sized box is repeatedly dragged on and off stage. Kaelan spends the preset moment of the piece filling up cups of Prosecco for the audience, and without ruining the ending, there are certainly some immersive horror moments that occur, and are actually pretty frightening. The comedy-horror-show-that-goes-wrong-but-not-really style of the piece works fantastically, its aesthetic is whimsical and silly, and the character of Kaelan is simply a joy to watch, as we listen to him babble on about his wild adventures.
Queer representation in this piece is a mix of very refreshing and slightly odd, and may be one of the more contentious parts of the show for you. Doherty has clearly taken care to make sure Kaelan is a rounded character, rather than just a camp Gay stereotype. His backstory and the narrative that plays out all fits neatly together against a backdrop of contemporary Queer references which Doherty draws on. The absurdity of his character sets him apart from simply being defined by his Queerness. My only criticism here is that some of the jokes tread the line of worn-out tropes, especially the “Gay man finds Vaginas icky” humour. Luckily the piece as a whole is so absurd, and Kaelan himself such a loose cannon, that it manages to move past this quite quickly and present something that is uniquely queer, and queerly unique.
Even though the plot is so utterly bizarre and out-of-nowhere, the piece has a real semblance of itself and the storytelling flows really well through the wacky jokes embedded within. The horror elements are superbly done without changing the tone of the piece, and you really do feel like you’re a part of something special by the end. This won’t be for everyone, the humour will alienate a fair chunk of the audience, but that doesn’t matter, because Doherty’s work here is objectively well crafted. Off-the-wall, unhinged and deliciously devilish, Gay Witch Sex Cult flings you into Kaelan’s crazy mind, and you’ll never be the same again.
Recommended Drink: Grab a glass of Prosecco from Kaelan and get ready to enjoy the chaos unfold.
Catch Gay Witch Sex Cult at VAULT Festival until the 4th February at 22:20. Tickets are available through the VAULT Festival Box Office.