Drag: A British History

Univ. of California. Aug. 2023. 264p. ISBN 9780520393325. $29.95. HIST
Though the title might suggest a broader treatment, this text is focused on specific drag performances from 1870 to 1970. Bloomfield (cultural and gender history, Univ. of Konstanz and Univ. of Kent) writes about Arthur Lucan and his character Old Mother Riley; the post–World War I revue troupe Les Rouges et Noirs; the politically conservative drag act of Danny La Rue; and censorship (or lack thereof) of drag in the British theatrical scene of the mid-20th century. Within this fixed range, the book furnishes a thought-provoking look at how drag entertainers employed various combinations of acting and artistic talents, humor, class, patriotism, and aesthetics, becoming not only accepted among mainstream audiences but also wildly successful, even as shifting legal and moral questions about gender and sexuality permeated wider British society. This is an excellent examination of the complexities of various forms of stage drag and its mainstay role in British popular culture. Readers interested in this topic will find that Bloomfield’s approach offers an interesting recontextualization of the place and legacy of drag in British history.
VERDICT A strong selection for collections focusing on LGBTQIA+ communities, drag history, and performing arts.
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