Yummy – Underbelly Festival, London

Director: James Welsby

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

In the old days, drag was challenging and subversive often coming with a political or a gender political agenda. Now as it increasingly occupies mainstream territory, drag has been tamed and its power to undermine societal expectations has been made safe. Yummy, the new drag show opening at the Southbank’s Underbelly Festival, is as safe as houses, and, despite its name, Yummy is pretty bland.

While it combines elements of circus and cabaret, Yummy is mainly based upon the art of lip-synching, and consists of seven performers, including Valerie Hex, who is the drag alter ego of director James Welsby. For an hour the performers take turns to lip-synch and dance to a well-chosen song list. Their routines are occasionally amusing, but there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before.

Karen From Finance is our host for the evening, but her jokes are never as funny as her name. Her own lip-synch number, to Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles, is strangely underpowered and pointless. Indeed, in nearly all cases the music to which the artists perform is more interesting than their routines. The songs, mainly electronica and R&B, may have you scouting Shazam on your phone. Three of the artists perform to The Fagget Fairys’ Feed The Horses while Jandruze’s early routine is eclipsed by the song she dances to, Sandwiches by Detroit Grand Pubahs.

There’s some live singing by Joni in the Moon, and while she has an ethereal voice, her performance seems at odds with the lip-synching of the others. Tellingly, it’s the circus skills of Hannie Helsden that get the biggest applause of the evening. She at least engages with the audience; some of the other acts seem distant, emotionally and literally, in the tight circle of the Spielgeltent.

As Yummy hails from Australia, it’s impossible not to make comparison with Briefs, the queer and sexy circus that took up residency at the Underbelly Festival in recent years. It may be best to wait Briefs’ return. While Yummy doesn’t leave a bad taste in the mouth, it certainly isn’t mouth-watering either. In fact, it’s a little vanilla.

Runs until 28 July 2019 | Image: Helen Murray

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