I’ll admit it. I’m not into Drag Race. I have only dipped in and out of some episodes and read or heard tidbits of gossip through Facebook where gaggles of gays gush about it and Attitude magazine posts at least one article a day about it or one or more of the queens and their dramas. But when I somehow managed to wangle free tickets to watch Death Drop at The Lowry Theatre in Salford Quays, I thought this could be an interesting show. I had no real expectations apart from expecting it to be a camp, comedic murder mystery of a play – and it was. But I was left pleasantly surprised beyond that and thoroughly laughed out.
Set in 1991, Death Drop follows a group of larger than life strangers who are invited to a mysterious dinner party on “Tuck Island” to celebrate the 10th wedding anniversary of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. But are they all really strangers? One by one, secrets and lies are exposed and one by one they start dropping dead – it turns out there is a serial killer among them. But whodunnit? The revelation is, as expected, a shocking twist, but is also unexpected despite disguises not exactly being all that subtle. Unless you perhaps thought having such a small cast meant members had to play more than one character. This was certainly the case for writer Holly Stars, who spreads herself across three characters – identical triplet sisters Blue, Brie and Spread Bottomley.
Willam Belli, by far the biggest star of the show, plays fading 80s popstar Shazza but while her name was bound to attract more bums in seats the spotlight shines on and is shared equally with the other drag queens and kings who make up the rest of the funny, talented ensemble. These include fellow US Drag Race alumni Ra’Jah O’Hara, Vinegar Strokes from Drag Race UK and Drag Race Down Under contestant Karen from Finance, all of whom have taken over their roles played by previous drag legends such as Courtney Act, Monêt X Change, Latrice Royale, Myra Dubois and Manchester-based queen Anna Phylactic in the first two – albeit short – stints in London’s West End. The play has been spearheaded by Christopher Clegg, who is well-known on the drag scene after founding TuckShop and has previous West End theatre and all-star drag show productions under his belt as well.
Death Drop is an over-the-top, laugh out loud play with a few cheesy, catchy, tongue-in-cheek and hilarious musical numbers thrown in for good measure. And risqué jokes and some sly digs kept audiences cackling at their audacity. It’s a breath of fresh air in the world of traditional theatre productions where the cast are serious performers but don’t take themselves too seriously either; like an adults’ pantomime that can be watched year-round.
The Lowry Theatre’s capacity is barely more than 1,800 – the largest audience for this show yet, apparently – and while you might first wonder why a show like this with pretty big names in the drag industry is only playing in smaller theatres, you can maybe guess why with its simple production (no scenery changes at all, no live band and as mentioned, a cast of just eight people). But what it lacks in elaborate staging it makes up for in dramatic and dynamic performances (including a vast array of exaggerated accents), an almost non-stop barrel of jokes script, and a wardrobe full of bedazzling costumes that would bring Lily Savage back out of Paul O’Grady’s closet just to get her hands on. When the voiceover at the beginning of the show warned of strobe lights I now assume she meant Willam’s blindingly sparkly dress and not the flashes of thunder and lightning.
So even if you’ve never heard of any of the drag performers in the show, aren’t a fan or a regular viewer of Drag Race and its regional variants, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this killer show and appreciating the many talents drag performers possess. The only real shame? With a name like Death Drop, there was a lack of any examples of this iconic dance move that has become synonymous with drag queens everywhere…
Rating: 4/5 or… 👸🏼👸🏽👸🏾👸🏿/👸🏻