“A little world away from the world”: HOCUM POKEM @ Contact Theatre

Credit: Contact Theatre

HOCUM POKEM is a hexing, filthy, dirty laugh that knows where it is and why it’s filling theatres, writes Ciarán Hodgers.

Dark magic descended onto Contact Theatre in Manchester for a fine drag remake of the classic 90’s Hallowe’en movie Hocus Pocus in the camp, colourful cabaret of Hokum Pokum.

Starring a host of recognisable local talent the show opens with Ana Phylactic as Myrtle Snow from American Horror Story, so you know already the adaptation is going to be…contemporary. Ana rocks the quirky warmness needed to deliver Myrtle well with her opening Theremin number.

The most recognisable stars are obviously those headliners – Holestar, Jinkx Monsoon and Peaches Christ. They storm the stage in hilarious caricatures of already fairly made-up characters. Jinkx Monsoon rubs herself strangely, smiling frantically into the audience, Holestar bumbles on with a sense of slapstick and Peaches Christ sweeps up the iconic green cloak donning the likely painful facial expression of Bette Midler’s Anderson sister-witch.

Straight off the bat, there are a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race references. I’m a fan, no question about it, but is the only reason this show sold out Contact’s biggest theatre because one of the acts won a TV show? Although I like the jokes, it might alienate some who don’t watch the show and I think, in some ways, takes away from the humour of what they’re doing. Some references are slap-you-in-the-face obvious and receive much laughter and even a slight pause from the act – such as “That witch next door…Valentina” – but others are much more well placed as trick-or-treats for die hard Drag Race fans, such as the gravestone with Bianca Del Rio’s name on it.

We are treated to the movie’s best bits – the sing-alongs, the one-liners, the ridiculousness of hoover-brooms and talking cats. In places, it’s aware of itself and its audience: there are cleverly placed moments of self-awareness where they discuss the script, why Myrtle Snow is knocking around, and more than a few UK and Manchester references, such as listing of a bunch of apparently sub-par drag queens and the belly-laughing Theresa May line.

There were moments when, watching one of the queens belt out a solo number with the audience clapping along, that it felt like this could be a prime time TV show or some kids’ programme, but at the same time a strange sense washed over me where I realised it felt nice to be in this space working with a set of contexts slightly more specific to me. I understood the references and jokes, whereas the typical spectator of Jonathan Ross, for example, might not. This was a little world away from the world.

Suitably camp, ridiculous and convincingly performed, Hocum Pokum is a good laugh, a good weekend show and is highlighting local talent and references in an interesting way. It’s inevitable that celebrity will sell more tickets, but it’d be a shame to see the drag world reduced to Drag Race, only exclusively playing to that audience or using that in its content. For me the best bits were when this show stepped into its own and used the world of the movie rather than of the cast’s CV. Still, it’s warming to see such a big space filled with this kind of work.