Words & illustrations by Emily Doyle
The freaks and geeks of Birmingham’s drag scene have arrived at The Nightingale Club in their droves to welcome the Boulet Brothers on their first UK Tour. Dragula has finally made it to the UK, and it’s about time.
For the uninitiated, Dragula is to Ru Paul’s Drag Race what I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here is to Pop Idol. The show started life as a live talent show on the LA and San Francisco nightlife scene, before becoming a straight-to-YouTube TV show with a cult audience. It’s since been picked up by Canadian cable channel OutTV, and with its third season in the works it shows no signs of slowing down.
The Boulet Brothers emerge to the strains of the show’s growling theme music. They are bathed in red light. Making no assumptions about their audience’s familiarity with the show, the brothers Dracmorda and Swanthula brief the crowd on Dragula’s aim to, “locate, articulate and elevate alternative forms of drag.” They make no bones about their stance on inclusivity, throwing only a little bit of shade at the Drag Race model when they declare that it, “doesn’t matter what’s between your legs” in drag.
Once the formalities are out the way, the Boulet Brothers introduce the first act of the evening: “Birmingham, put those filthy hands together, and welcome to the stage, Vander Von Odd!”
Resplendent in a Batwing cape and winged eyeliner sharp enough to cut a man, Vander Von Odd sets the tone for the evening. Crowned the ‘World’s First Drag Supermonster’ at the conclusion of Dragula’s first season, Odd has a lot to answer for. Her first performance is an impassioned lip sync routine to some euphoric electropop from Sweden’s iamamiwhoami. It’s triumphant, and culminates in an in-your-face nude illusion reveal. When Odd returns to the stage later in the evening, however, she’s upped her game – stumbling out into the spotlight, an umbilical cord of red silk tied around her waist, and disappearing behind the curtains. She wears a white latex ballerina outfit and picks her way across the stage en pointe to the strains of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’. It’s fragile, arresting, and heartbreaking.
Not all of Dragula’s performers are pitching quite such high brow acts. Season 2 runner up, James Majesty, treats us to two salacious performances, spraying the crowd with beer and slapping the faces of the front row. A provocative routine to glam rockers Semi Precious Weapons sees Majesty fully nude by the end of the song – there’s no illusion here. Alongside her drag, Majesty has been both a sex worker and educator; her shameless attitude is contagious.
Season 1’s Meatball injects a little more humour into the evening with her performances. Strutting on stage with an old McDonald’s advert playing on the screen behind her, she adjusts her yellow bodysuit and produces a paper bag. Her wig is bright red, yellow highlights at the front mirroring the golden arches on the screen behind her. Her lipsync drips with attitude, cutting between Ke$ha’s ‘Woman’ and a monologue ripped straight from YouTube about a woman being denied an extra McRib at a drive-thru (if you’re as clueless as I was, search for ‘tell ‘em Carla sent you’ and all will be revealed). By the end she is tossing room temperature hamburgers (mercifully still wrapped) from the paper bag into the audience. The gentleman behind me catches one and eats it with vigour.
The Boulet Brothers take some time out of the show to record a message from the crowd to Season 2’s Victoria Black, who’s had to pull out of the tour due to illness. In their words, however, her loss is our gain. Atlanta performer, Abhora, is here to take her place and presents what might be the most disarming performances of the night.
The word “Abhora” has barely left our host’s lips before the lights dim, and the crashing guitar of Marilyn Manson’s ‘Astonishing Panorama of the End Times’ fades in over the PA system. At the far end of the venue Abhora emerges, wading through the crowd on stilts. She’s draped in bin bags, looking like Disney’s Maleficent if Debbie Harry did her wardrobe. Perched atop her backcombed grey wig are a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. She throws herself against the room’s lit-up pillars, trusting audience members to get out of the way in time. As John 5’s revolting speed metal guitar solo kicks in, Abhora holds aloft a plush Donald Duck, strung up to a wooden crucifix like a marionette. She whirls it around as the crowd ducks to avoid being hit, before collapsing in a daring stage dive.
Perhaps the most hotly awaited performer of the evening is the winner of Dragula Season 2, Biqtch Puddin‘. She has a reputation for pushing the boundaries of weird, even in drag circles. Her first performance of the evening is centred around the unsolved homicide of child beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey, a theme clearly chosen for its tastelessness. However, it would probably be more provocative to an American audience – or at least one who weren’t mostly children themselves in 1996 when it played out in the US media.
Puddin’s second performance, however, is bang on the money. Dressed in a grubby boiler suit, her hair and makeup feel like a nod to Tim Curry’s Dr Frank-n-Furter. Her lipsync, an old school mix of Whitney Houston, Tiffany, and Berlin, tells the tale of a janitor’s forbidden love for her anthropomorphised cleaning supplies. It’s as surreal as it sounds, and comes to a head with Puddin’ smeared with an ominous brown fluid as she applies a plunger to her face. It’s stomach turning, and it’s exactly what the Dragula fans are here for.
Towards the end of the evening, Dracmorda and Swanthula take some time out of the proceedings for a quick Q&A with the crowd. They refuse to comment on the forthcoming third season, but are otherwise happy to talk about anything from the show’s origins to break-up advice. (“Be polite about it, OK, because you could make a good friend out of that person. Look at what you agree with them on, just make the best of it… otherwise, if they really are awful you could just run ‘em down with your car, that’s another option.”) Fans are clearly heartened to have the chance to put their questions straight to the Boulet Brothers; in a community where the only real mainstream representation of drag queens are Ru Paul’s VH1 vetted glamazons, Dragula represents a punk spirit at the heart of the art form. It’s a breath of fresh air, and a call to arms for would be performers. The brothers have time for one more question:
“Aside from filth, horror and glamour, what’s at the heart of a true monster?” muses Swanthula, before her brother interrupts – “Tenacity, tenacity, tenacity!” Dracmorda cries. “If you’re going to become the ‘World’s Drag Supermonster’, it is going to be difficult! It is not Ru Paul’s Drag Race-to-stardom! It is gonna kick your ass, you’re gonna have to perform in crazy places, but you know what? The fans are gonna be passionate, they’re gonna love you, and you’re gonna do fucking amazing.”
It’s on that note that the Boulet Brothers clear the stage for the night’s closing performance, and prepare for a meet and greet. There are smiles all round and the room is abuzz with speculation for the show’s next season. The brothers hint that some UK talent might make an appearance, but refuse to give any more away – it seems British fans will have to wait for it to air to see if they can spot any familiar faces…
For more on Boulet Brothers’ Dragula, visit www.bouletbrothersdragula.com
For more from Eat Sleep Drag Repeat, including further event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.esdrevents.co.uk
For more on The Nightingale Club, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.nightingaleclub.co.uk
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