The husk of Underbelly Cowgate’s “Big Belly” venue is dimly lit and cool. An awkward guitarist in white jeans and matching bomber jacket enters, unceremoniously tapping smoke machines on and pressing a keyboard to start a beat. And then Diane Chorley enters: shoulderpads framing her statuesque figure, Madonna bracelets sparkling, perm bouncing and silk trousers shining. She launches into her booming, synth-tastic opening number and there is no doubt: we are in the 80s. Or at least Chorley’s still stuck there. Rhythm of Live is the name of her debut solo—and favourite—album from 1987, and tonight we are here to witness a thirtieth anniversary performance of the entire record that she can’t quite leave behind. Never heard of it? Neither has the audience.
Diane Chorley is the drag alter-ego of performer David Selley and the entire album backstory narrated throughout Rhythm of Live is a masterful fabrication that you might almost believe. The show is half-music gig, half-monologue and the two are blended perfectly as Chorley takes us through her pivotal album track by track, revealing the so-ridiculous-they-could-be-true stories behind each. We begin in the formative years of her career managing The Flick nightclub in Essex with backup band The Buffet, before traversing through phone calls from Michael Jackson, Studio 54 escapades, the recording process in Chorley’s very own boat-studio, a crippling addiction to Calpol, rehab-breakdown and inevitable comeback. And we buy into every word.
The show is peppered with perfectly-chosen 80s references, flippantly mentioned by Chorley as she converses with the audience, and the evenly-paced punchlines are always spot-on. It is the original music, too, that bolsters the recreated era, with brilliantly catchy choruses, retro-electronic pop production and flamboyant and witty lyrics. She has a fantastic, powerful singing voice too.
The real grit of the show, though, is Diane Chorley herself. Selley’s characterisation is nuanced, idiosyncratic and immaculately realised through every pursed lip, nostril flare, head bob, hand gesture and knowing glance. But the grand theatrics are saved for the musical performances. When speaking, she is low-key and contained, her voice reminiscent of Samantha Fox or a subtler Pat Butcher. Talking with us, Chorley is intimate, engaging and fascinating, giving us no choice but to be wrapped up in the fantasy.
There are plenty of drag acts at this year’s Fringe, but Rhythm of Live is far more than lip-synching and sequins. Diane Chorley is a character to behold and laugh with and as well as being swept up in the charade, the faux 80s bops will get you on your feet too.