F rancesca Forristal sits in Oxford’s Jam Factory with a liquorice tea, talking tattoos and her interest in what makes a song or music artist queer, when her friend and comedy partner Ed Scrivens hurries into view. “Oh, wigs, wigs, the wigs, can I see? Can I see?” she says, in reference to what he’s carrying. One of the wigs is bad,” he warns her, before stating a positive: the other wig, a black one, actually does look like the picture on the packaging.

Dressing up is important in their lives. Forristal is also known as drag king Christian Adore, and Scrivens drag queen Eaton Messe. In these guises they perform together as The Dragprov Revue, delivering musical comedy shows through the art of improvisation.

© A Touch of Vintage Photography

© A Touch of Vintage Photography

Are there any others doing what they do? Forristal mentions Adam All and Apple Derrieres, a double act made up of a drag king and bio queen – though she says she hates the latter term. “Femme queen, I like to say,” offers her partner, a description she seems more accepting of. Scrivens then explains what a femme queen actually is: somebody who in their everyday life identifies as female – they could be a cisgender woman or a trans woman – but performs as a drag queen. There are a few drag double acts, he says, but to the best of their knowledge they are the only people doing what they are doing. Forristal acknowledges the existence of a one-off London night also called DragProv, which they themselves performed at, but says even that, in the main, was different to what they do.

Prior to The Dragprov Revue, they performed together for some time with improv group The Oxford Imps (which they are both still part of). “I remember the day we decided we were going to do Eaton Messe and Christian Adore,” says Forristal. “We were doing an improvised musical with [The Imps]; it was set in a gym. I was a girl who wasn’t happy with being a girl and wanted to be a dude, and wanted to lift and be strong.”

“I was a guy who didn’t enjoy the masc gym community, and was feeling put out,” Scrivens says. “Our characters came together and decided to become a drag king and drag queen.” This involved what he refers to as a pivotal song, of which she recalls the lyrics.

“Let’s get together if you know what I mean, I can be your drag king and you can be my drag queen.”

They came off stage following a good response from the audience, and decided to make a go of it. “We both have leanings towards musical improvisation and musical comedy, and we were both interested in giving drag a try,” says Scrivens, who as a kid was dressing up as Dorothy Gale. “We thought it would be cool to bring those two things together, bring our improv stuff into the drag thing.” Consequently they believe they’ve filled a gap in the market.

“It wasn’t like we sat down one day and went, ‘We want a successful show, what are we going to do?’” she says. “It was more like: ‘We love performing together, we’re both queer as fuck, let’s do something that is both of those things.’”

She admits drag kings don’t seem to be as popular as the queens, reckoning it’s for all sorts of reasons. “There’s a lot of shtick about women not being as funny as men,” the 22-year-old points out. Also, she continues, people think less skill goes into a woman transforming into a man, than when a man transforms into a woman.

In his own exploration of why there’s less affection for the kings, Scrivens draws attention to the likes of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, and films dating back decades, which place drag queens very much in the public consciousness. Drag kings have not had the same exposure, he says. “They’re not represented in the most widely consumed media to do with drag.”

Regardless, as a duo they are sought after. “We get bookings all the time from people we’ve never approached,” Forristal says. People will have heard about them from X or Y, or seen their show, and want them. “[Dragprov Revue] seems to generate its own business,” she says, “which is great.”

One gig was for the Ashmolean’s Founder’s Festival last year. “They were doing a 17th century-themed, late night event,” says Scrivens, then recollecting how they were both taken to an old aircraft hangar in the countryside to pick out 17th century costumes for their set. “That was a really fun show. We were in this gallery, me and this big long heavy frock, and you,” he says to Forristal, “in this red velvet hat with a big white feather.”

He says that part of him did wonder how onboard the Ashmolean crowd would be with them. She says there were “lots of grannies there, and very conservative Oxford people”.

“They came and they –” he begins.

“Loved it.” She fills in. “– stayed for the whole thing,” he completes, which isn’t really the same as loving it, but he does go on to state that lots of people came back to see them perform again (they did a couple of sets that night).

The reason that they appeal to a variety of people is perhaps that they are what Forristal calls “wholesome drag”. They might do a bawdy set if it’s what the booking requires, she says, but you’re also likely to see them doing a family-friendly show.

For all the popularity of Christian Adore and Eaton Messe, neither of them are full-time Dragprovisers. She is a teacher, usually finishing the day job at 5:30-6pm, and then rushing off to a rehearsal or show (be it with Dragprov, Oxford Imps, or her band Garfunkel). He is studying for a PhD in Egyptology. “I spend my days researching goddesses,” he says, “and then at night I become one.”

The Dragprov Revue (Edinburgh Fringe Preview) 4 March, The Jericho Tavern dragprov.com

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