Writer: Holly Stars
Director: Jesse Jones
As Ru Paul’s Drag Race gears up to start its thirteenth US series, there can be no doubt that what started out as the cheapest-looking reality TV series in American history has become a cultural juggernaut that has transformed how mainstream audiences have come to look upon the ancient and noble art of drag.
Here in the UK, production company Tuck Shop has been riding that wave, but also shaping it, featuring a wider range of drag artists that the TV show’s narrower parameters would typically allow. And after the success of the company’s all-drag Cinderella last year, the same company has returned with a ballsy take on the murder mystery genre.
Subtitling itself as a “Dragatha Christie murder mystery”, writer Holly Stars (who also plays identical triplets Blue, Brie and Spread) creates a comedy world, set in 1991, where Lady Von Fistenburg (Drag Race UK’s Vinegar Strokes) has invited a motley group of strangers to her remote residence on the pretence of celebrating Charles and Diana’s 10th wedding anniversary.
Among the guests are US Drag Race alumni Monét X Change and Courtney Act, as well as British drag artists Anna Phylactic, Louis CYfer and Kemah Bob. Stars’s script recognises all the major tropes of this subgenre of crime fiction, creating links between this apparently disparate group that are revealed piecemeal as the bodies begin to pile up.
By casting an ensemble of solo comedy performers, this production has to cater for fans who want to see individual drag artists be true to their own persona while also delivering a character performance that serves the story. As a writer, Stars juggles these two demands well, while among the cast the result is more variable. Phylactic’s predatory tabloid editor and CYfer’s philandering MP come out best in such a culture clash.
Best served amongst all the cast is Stars herself, as one might expect. Her natural gift for improvisation and comedy is a large part of that, but also because the script’s whole comedy timbre – relying on equal parts scatology and nostalgia for 80s and 90s foodstuffs from Fab lollies to Swiss rolls – plays to the writer/performer’s own strengths.
There is a little too much flab in the second act, which induces a sense of drag in an altogether different meaning. And headliner Monét X Change sometimes struggles to make her presence felt, albeit because she’s turning up to 11 when everyone else is way past 20.
But despite that, Death Drop is a welcome addition to the roster of shows that are gradually reawakening the West End. It’s a sign that British drag is changing; accepting the influence of Ru Paul’s media empire, but refusing to be constrained by it. And it makes another step forwards in Holly Stars’s route to deservedly becoming a household name.
Continues until 17 January 2021