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House of MCR

Darren Pritchard and Rikki Beadle-Blair

Factory International

Aviva Studios, Manchester

June 20-22, 2024; 2hr 30min

The House of MCR performers on the runway at Aviva Studios. All pics: Jody Hartley
The House of MCR performers on the runway at Aviva Studios. All pics: Jody Hartley

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Thanks to Madonna’s Vogue, the documentary movie Paris is Burning, and the recent hit TV series Pose, the once-underground world of the ballroom has become much more mainstream. Now, Factory International has brought the runway to its Aviva Studios home and the result is perfection.

A riotous evening of drag, dance and disgustingly talented performers, House of MCR is a celebration of queer joy. It is also a showcase for the creativity of people of colour in the local LGBTQ+ community. It is loud, proud and very, very fabulous.

For anyone unfamiliar, the ballroom scene was born in the US among Black and Latin communities; "houses" or "families" of performers would walk a runway and compete in various categories, including dance and fashion, to be judged by the audience.

Vogue dance superstar Darren Pritchard has worked with legendary director Rikki Beadle-Blair to create an accessible and authentic show, inspired by that ball history.

The contest is split into five categories – We Dress, We Dance, We Sing, We Strip and We Lip Sync – separated by a much-needed interval to recover and discuss the artistry on stage.

Audience members are encouraged to show their appreciation by clapping or waving their fans and a winner is crowned in each competition – meaning a different experience every night.

This is exactly the sort of show Factory International’s Aviva Studios was built for. The Warehouse is transformed, with a runway splitting the room and a stunning bank of lights creating a stage area at one end. It is hard to imagine the scale and ambition of this staging being possible in any other space in Manchester.

No expense has been spared. A string quartet accompanies the breathtaking opening, the outfits are extraordinary, and the lighting is on point.

Anyone who has seen Beadle-Blair will know just how brilliant a host they are. Whether you are a ball veteran or a newbie who has never even seen an episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, you are instantly at ease and welcomed.

There are several outfit changes for the compere (the angelic wings a definite highlight), and they sing and dance their heart out. As ever, it is impossible not to feel informed and inspired by the words and delivery.

But the performers are, quite rightly, the stars of the show. Flawless doesn't begin to cover it.

It almost feels rude to highlight any one artist over another, but it would be remiss not to mention a few. Ella Gumbs’ fetish-inspired outfit, with its flashes of African patterns, is a sight to behold. It is not possible to take your eyes off Denon James in the dance category. Zha Olu and Jaii Andrew delivered an epic sing-off. The list goes on.

House of MCR is on for just three nights. The petition for Factory International to make this a regular event begins right here.

More info and tickets here.


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