The intimate and alarming cabaret of Lucy McCormick

Lucy McCormick’s half-naked body is covered in tomato puree. The floor is littered with confetti and broken glass. Everything is covered with hummus.

The disruptive artist’s new show at London’s Yard Theater is an intensely messy cabaret night, in which she performs every act. With the pandemic, the scarcity of Arts Council funding and the undeniable lure of growing up and getting out of the arts, her co-performers have given up, she tells us. So she goes solo. Since we’re already here, we might as well help him.

Featuring grotesque, mud-strewn mayhem, complete with daddy jokes and audience participation, this one-man variety show is imbued with a sense of childlike playfulness. Despite an intimate moment with a carrot that had an onlooker behind me mutter, “Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ!” at increasing volume, it’s one of the queer club entertainer’s most innocent performances. Fans will have seen all of his orifices shoved into the extraordinary Triple Treat, and been shoved away as she climbed into our seats as Boudicca in her pageant, Post Popular.Tonight’s stakes are lower, with McCormick running around dressed as a ghost, singing Adele.

Its aesthetic is a decadent DIY — the spotlight is a torch held by someone in the second row — but its presence is intimidatingly classy. Coaxed by her contagious, chaotic energy, we join her in singing from her song sheet (where the lyrics to one song are simply “ohohohoh” on a loop) and clapping loudly as she nearly sets fire to her hair with sparks from a power tool. But when she tries to chat with us in between acts, we get a little nervous. “Is this the imminent threat of participation?” she asks, wide-eyed and laden with mash, having moments before brandished a gun at an audience member and briefly jerking off with a toothbrush.

Slick wildness… Lucy McCormick in Post Popular on the outskirts of Edinburgh in 2019. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

McCormick’s personality is cheeky and assured. Often vocal, a diva demanding to be worshipped, she can deal with any response from her audience; I saw her once curtly scolding a man at one of her shows for getting too cocky. But that confidence is still mixed with a sense of false vulnerability, as if she’s suddenly stripped away all her performance layers and just wants you to reassure her that she’s okay.

When I interviewed her a few years ago, she said her shows were a way to test a braver version of herself, as well as explore what she found difficult. In her solo cabaret, she talks about the difficulty of making friends, and you notice that in each delirious performance – a ghost, a cat, a sexpert – there is a little reminder of loneliness. His work is such a striking style of personal parody that you never really know when to stop laughing. But suddenly, up a ladder, wildly dirty and pantless, she’s bold, naked and honest, and the uncertainty of how we’re supposed to react is exhilarating.

Related: Lucy McCormick: ‘I only stop when I’ve gone too far’

McCormick is a master of this uncomfortable uncertainty. As soon as you’re on the back foot, she’s ready to immediately kick off another song to sing together or smear a new piece of food from the fridge. The way she performs with power and authenticity is part of what makes her shows so addictive.

Where Triple Threat and Post Popular were slick in their savagery, his most recent life of ego exploration: Live! tipped over in a shapeless chaos. This cabaret sits apart, upsetting expectations just as much as it embraces the cliché. At the end of it all, she just wants us to feel a sense of oneness. Colorful wreckage and sexy absurdity are her best ways to achieve this. Lucy and her friends may not have the overarching narrative that has made her previous shows spectacular, but her performances are always a delight. Especially since he is highly unpredictable, slightly intimidating, and extraordinarily messy.

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