Binge Fringe Magazine

REVIEW: The Real Black Swann, Les Kurkendaal-Barrett, Prague Fringe 2023 ★★★★★

Les Kurkendaal-Barrett’s poignant and emotive story tells the little known history of the first Black Drag Queen William Dorsey Swann. Through a Wizard of Oz-cum-Christmas Carol style story of learning the error of your ways in a hallucinated meeting with the vision of an imagined figure from history, Les takes us through the life of Swann, from American Slave to Drag Queen to becoming the first Queer Activist on record in the USA. 

During a medical procedure which puts him into a deep sleep dream, Les finds himself floating in a glimmering pink bubble, protected from the reality of the harsh outside world. Within his dream world, he encounters William Dorsey Swann engaged in an intense fight with the police. As the two come face to face, the protective bubble pops. From here, we are taken through the trajectory of Swann’s life, how as an American Slave she discovered the affirming comfort of exploring gender expression, threw secret parties for the Queer community and even allegedly coined the term ‘Drag’. 

But this is not your everyday historical figure play, Les ingeniously blends the trajectory of Swann’s life with his own journey and learning. As Les speaks to Swann and learns of her fight against racism and homophobia over 100 years ago, parallels are drawn to Les’s plight and his eyes are opened to the understanding that he could be taking a more active stance in the present day. Following this is a heart wrenching and inspiring plea from Les for the audience to stand more firmly and shout even louder against racism and homophobia today. Swann serves as the needle that pops Les’s metaphorical bubble, as Les passionately serves as the needle to pop ours. 

Les offers a unique and perceptive storytelling form, rather than the descriptive and overly-glossed style we come to expect from one actor plays, Les presents hard hitting facts in an acerbic, matter-of-fact like way which fits the tone of the piece perfectly and is exceptionally effective in provoking a thoughtful response from the audience about how we may see the world from our own shiny pink bubbles. This is skillfully balanced with the strength of Les’s multi-roling shining through in his ability to seamlessly transition between the voice and physicality of Swann and himself. Les’s soul-baring bravery should be highly commended as he truthfully opens up about his own conflict with the part he plays in anti-racist and Queer activism. 

The relevance of this show resonates with the audience as we continue to fight for the rights of LGBTQIA+ and Black people across the USA and the wider world. As Swann makes strides to move his world forward, we are brutally exposed to the reality of our world turning backwards. 

Les Kurkendaal-Barret is outstandingly emotive and empowering, with an honesty that both challenges and inspires even the most bubbled of the audience.

Recommended Drink: Pink lemonade, sparkling and sweet with bursting bubbles and the bitter sharp undertones of the truth we need to hear. 

Catch The Real Black Swann: Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen at Museum of Alchemists until 27th May (times vary each day). Tickets are available through the Prague Fringe Box Office.

Lorne Elvin

Lorne has a background as a musician and composer with an interest in sound design and storytelling through music and audio. They are deeply passionate about accessibility and artists taking strides to create inclusive and accessible theatre. Lorne has a love of gig theatre as well as stories that explore the nuances of gender, our relationships with identity, and our bodies, on stage.

Festivals: Prague Fringe (2023), EdFringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them