Southern camp arrives by the bucketload in Femme Ta Bouche from Teddy Walker, a punky treat that centres on a trio of underdogs taking on a preacher practising conversion therapy. This James Kemp directed play sits somewhere between John Waters and Pedro Almodovar, blending comedy and melodrama with a real scrappy charm and authentic heart.
New York drag star (or gender bending cabaret star in her own words) Femme Ta Bouche is shacked up in her Grandmother Momo’s caravan as she awaits treatment for colon cancer. Returning to her small-town Alabama hometown prompts Femme to confront Father Bingham, a radical preacher who subjected her to brutal conversion therapy, as a means of showing queer young people who are still subjected to it that there is hope beyond this torture.
Opening with Don McLean’s American Pie playing and our protagonist sitting on stage, we get a sense of the sparky southern charm that underpins Femme Ta Bouche. Femme wears a red wig, a metal breastplate, a short green skirt and shining silver heeled boots – a unique sight to behold, yet one that encapsulates the punky, free-spirited energy of the narrative. Simple but effective staging of a few chairs littered around gives the illusion of Momo’s trailer whilst harking back to camp trailer odysseys such as Pink Flamingos and Sordid Lives.
These camp classics also feel prevalent in Teddy Walker’s characters. Femme delivers lines like a Southern Belle with bite, whilst Momo has the quirkiness of a John Waters supporting player as she hunts and communicates with the moths in the caravan. Natural moments between Femme and Momo in the caravan are charming with the pair having a warm-hearted spark as they discuss Femme’s upcoming treatment and relationship with her unsupportive, small-minded parents.
Throughout Femme Ta Bouche, video clips are carefully incorporated capturing Femme on stage in New York and also delving into her past at Father Bingham’s conversion camp. These are impressively shot and help build the expanded world of the play, further emotionally investing us in the idea of Femme as a cabaret star and capturing the reality of Femme as a victim of Bingham’s conversion camp.
As Femme Ta Bouche progresses, the narrative brings in a documentary angle with Momo and Femme joined by a documentarian (played by an impressive Brig Bennett) creating an expose on Bingham’s abuses of power. Whilst this dynamic lacks the charm of the smaller-scale scenes with the duo in the caravan, it serves as a means to advance the plot. The last act does feel somewhat more chaotic as the trio confront Bingham – yet this almost fits in with the punky energy and spirit of Femme Ta Bouche.
Slightly more fine-tuning of Femme’s final speech would give the conclusion a greater sense of emotional depth as this moment feels quite rushed – despite the play building up to this throughout. A more specific critique on the damaging nature of conversion therapy would also benefit Femme Ta Bouche by enhancing the narrative stakes.
Femme Ta Bouche is a charming ride packed with a free-spirited energy and impressively-pitched performances from its cast. It perfectly crafts a sense of camp melodrama yet would benefit from heightening the message of its final moments.