If you haven’t heard of Hugo Grrrl, quite frankly, you haven’t been paying attention. Fowler’s alter ego is one of the most well known queer performers in the country, thanks to his relentless touring schedule and his 2018 win of TVNZ webseries House of Drag.
Princess Boy Wonder, however, is a massive step away from Hugo’s usual work. While it still features the drag staples of sparkles, rainbows, and lip-syncing, this is essentially a storytelling show. Between chats with a disembodied fairy (signalled by a blue lighting state), Fowler addresses the audience directly, speaking (and rapping) about his gender transition, alcoholism, and early forays into lesbianism.
He does this with his characteristic punny humour and natural charm, but also with a vulnerability and originality I don’t think I was expecting. The structure of the show is tight, and Fowler neatly sidesteps the tropes of the coming-out story by decrying notions like rock bottom. “It happens again and again,” he says, “much like coming out the closet.”
A highlight for me was the section on Fowler’s alcoholism. He speaks with candour about the reality (and normalisation of) excess drinking, while using a clever piece of audience involvement that keeps the mood light. The comorbidity between his addiction and his gender dysphoria would have been obvious to Princess Boy Wonder’s diverse opening night crowd, but probably very illuminating to the wider community of New Zealand.
Of course, the costumes are wonderful (see: sparkly vulva outfit), but perhaps even more impressive are the swift transitions between them. The lip-sync numbers are bombastic too; Fowler might not be the most technically proficient dancer on the planet, but his energy is infectious.
At the end of Princess Boy Wonder, Fowler gets granted his heart’s desire: to be “a real boy”. However, he learns through his experiences that real boys can still be sissies who love pink. The impression he leaves us with is that the coming-of-age story is, really, kind of bogus. We’re never really done, because the world is never really done with us, and that’s okay – all we can do is move forward with kindness and bravery.
Princess Boy Wonder isn’t a perfect show; sometimes, I wish Fowler would slow down his words and on night one, there was a sign (“the closet”) that I think was meant to disappear. However, it is a great one, and more importantly, it elevates Fowler and Hugo Grrrl from drag favourite to queer role model.
On 19 March, BATS Theatre announced it would shut for the foreseeable future to help prevent a sustained community outbreak of COVID-19 in Aotearoa. I really, really hope Fowler decides to re-stage Princess Boy Wonder - keep an eye out, because you’re not going to want to miss it a second time round.