The Lovely Jones
January 11, 2012
Most people lurching towards the big 3-0 tend to lock themselves away from the world, begging God to stop the sands of time and, failing that, trying to orchestrate a Faustian pact involving a surgical knife and a bucket of Oil of Oley. Not Cian O Brien, producer with the Rough Magic Theatre Company. He decided to celebrate his descent into crows feet and milestone induced responsibility by applying nipple tassels and a brand new persona, that of Mangina Jones, winner of the 2011 Alternative Miss Ireland contest. “It was the fulfillment of a personal ambition,” he says. “It was not a ‘transvestite’ thing. “I’ve always kind of done lip-syncing or that kind of performance for friends and family but I’ve never really ‘performed’ per se.”
Which makes his accomplishment on the Olympia stage all the more astounding. Threading a tale of heartache throughout her two numbers Mangina ripped up the stage to Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” thrusting her pain at being dumped into the hearts and souls of an audience who stood in sisterly solidarity with her battered heart.
Returning to the stage later that evening Mangina’s declaration of survival, a full throttle rendition of “River Deep Mountain High” struck a chord with the already revved up crowd, who were brought to their feet- and almost out of their minds- in a performance that was astonishingly committed to, that host and drag legend Panti would go onto describe as “spiritual”(once the five minute standing ovation quitened to a roar).
“I have no recollection of the performances whatsoever,” he says. “All I remember was coming off stage after River Deep, in those tiny French pants, bent over double with a photographer in my face. I don’t remember anything else, the crown going on, nothing.”
Most of the other performers had massive entourages and some extravagant costumes and sets. ” I remember arriving and I was on my own and a heightened sense of panic set in.” But then Roise Goan (Festival Director of ABSOLUT Fringe) and Louise White (actress) who were helping him with his show arrived with his make up artist Leonard and a bottle of Champagne “and it spiraled from there.”
“I just went for it, I didn’t hold back,” he says. “That second song possessed me. I didn’t pretend to be anything that I wasn’t. I came on in the OTT bonkers costume that I ripped off and said “Here I am, this is me…a big bear dancing around in his underpants.”
Some people are born with the gift of the gab. Cian has the gift of lip synchronisation, twisting and turning his face with joyful abandon as the hysterical heartache of yesteryear’s divas pumped through the sound system. “It’s an innate talent. It’s not something I ever trained in.” What makes it work though is how fully he gives himself to the performance. The astonishing commitment he brings to Mangina makes you feel like you are in the presence of something truly monumental, worthy of her now monarchistic title.
Is Mangina wholly invented or a piece of him that need to be exorcised through performance? “I think there are elements of me in Mangina, I’m not femininely shaped, I’m a big, hairy guy and I am embracing that in the name and in the look.”
So what does the future have for Mangina? “ Combating world peace, saving animals and all the other things that beauty queens should say” he says. “ I look forward to opening shopping centers in Tralee.”