‘Jen Der Unpacks’ is a comedic look at the identity confusion that can come with moving across the world.
Jen der is a talented and dynamic drag artist. Her sharp, comedic, and slightly dorky performance style is energetic and likeable. Her presence in the space is always bold and magnetic, and she holds audience attention no matter where she is in the space.
The use of audience participation in the piece creates a supportive and genuine environment, with audience members wrapped in hugs and dancing in their seats. This was one of my favourite elements of the show, and felt like a generous act, an extension of warmth.
The show strings together a series of songs within a plotline centring on travel confusion and self-doubt. However, while the song choice and placement is intuitive and entertaining, the show would be stronger with a clearer and more developed narrative grounding. The breadth of musical genres and the mix of classics with more obscure songs gives a pleasing variety and liveliness to the work. Within this Jen Der also showcases her ability to give life to a diverse mix of tracks.
Sometimes the show runs into difficult territory. One number is backdropped by a projected American flag with Jen Der standing, hand on heart in front of it. In this number she critiques elements of the US, parodying patriotism. However, in a political climate that sees huge violence enacted against marginalised communities, the satirical critique doesn’t go far enough to justify the use of this concept. In addition to this, her playing on the ‘clothesline out the back, veranda out the front’ cultural myth of Australia is at times uncomfortable, though at least at one point she does acknowledge first nations people.
The on-stage projections are mesmerising: geometric and psychedelic, taking elements of the show’s content and distorting it. However, they are at times aesthetically at odds with the costume and performance style of the show, and often don’t seem to be in actual conversation with the piece.
Despite uncomfortable elements, the show is active and enjoyable, and will be enjoyed by those looking for a laugh and a dance to some fun interpretations of nostalgic tracks.