Theatre Review: Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn at Film School) (KXT Kings Cross, Sydney) ★★★★

Sydney’s glamour bug, Etcetera Etcetera, is expanding her field of drag with a new one-woman show that gets down to the humanity behind the mask in Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn at Film School), presented during Sydney WorldPride.

The night starts like an old school Sydney drag show, lip-syncing to classic film monologues and dance tracks (in this case, Madonna’s 2003 hit “Hollywood”). It’s when the song and dance act ends, and Etcetera Etcetera is standing alone on stage that the real show begins. As Etcetera Etcetera told us in our recent interview, this show is about taking down the armour of drag and connecting with the audience.

Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn in Film School) Photo: Matthew Miceli Photography.

Big Screen, Small Queen… sees this queen share a portion of her life, her time at film school that led to her career in drag. It’s a story that many will relate to. Of a young queer person thinking they’ve found a new freedom in an arts education, only to find it just as constricting and role-defining as the world outside. But where one dream ended, another was born as she discovered a new art form.

Etcetera Etcetera never leaves the stage, holding the audience’s gaze through costume changes, dance routines, and lip-syncs; both in person and on an ever-projecting video screen behind her. She plays to the live audience and the dark eye of the lens. The choice of song and monologues illustrate stories of a twenty-something kid learning, making mistakes, struggling and coming to understand her own creative drive. 

Along the way we get a tour of some cinema greats, from superstars to camp classics. The references aren’t always the most obvious. A great costume change brings to life Elizabeth Taylor’s iconic White Diamond advert by Bruce Webber, another is a homage to Divine’s performance in Pink Flamingos. Scattered throughout are pop hits from the 90s and 00s, with deep cuts from the likes of Kylie Minogue and The Pussycat Dolls, and a touch of musical theatre. It wouldn’t be a camp, film-related show without an appearance by Norma Desmond.

Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn in Film School) Photo: Matthew Miceli Photography

It’s easy to just sit back and enjoy Big Screen, Small Queen… as a burst of colourful fun. There’s glitter and beads (probably too many beads, most of them ended up scattered on the floor making for some death-defying choreography) and dancers who are as adept at throwing shapes as they are at throwing wry looks. The meta-shade from the dancers/assistants was just part of the fun.

What’s somewhat lacking is a tighter hand on the narrative, which gets a bit lost in all that jazz. No director is listed for the show, and it feels like it could have used an extra pair of eyes to tighten and elevate. Occasionally, the banter falters under the combined pressures of changing costumes, redoing wigs and moving the story forward. Etcetera Etcetera starts the show with a joke about student filmmakers that hints at deeper thoughts about the objectification that drag encourages but also suffers from. It’s clear she has spent a long time thinking about the dichotomies associated with her profession and I’d have loved the show to delve into these murkier waters more. Maybe that’s something for the sequel?

Big Screen, Small Queen… is frothy, smokey, and heartfelt. A strong blend of traditional drag with confessional cabaret. It may not hit the full cathartic heights of the best of ultra-personal one-person shows, but it succeeds in being a great night out full of laughs, great tunes, and personal revelations that make it more than the sum of its sequined parts.

Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn at Film School) runs at Sydney’s King’s Cross Theatre from Feb 11 – 23, 2023. Click here for tickets and more information.

Etcetera Etcetera is also hosting Cinema Fabuloso, a series of film screenings at The Imperial Hotel with Frida Las Vegas on Wed 22 Feb (Strictly Ballroom/Romeo + Juliet double bill) and Wed 1 Mar (The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert). Click here for more.

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