Words & illustrations by Emily Doyle
Opulence promised a brand new performance night with Mother’s Meeting and the people have turned out for it. Drag fans fill the basement of Bar Jester, staring expectantly at the mural of nude men that decorates the back of the stage.
Dahliah Rivers welcomes the crowd. She wears a gold floor length art deco style dress, and fiery red hair tumbles down her shoulders.
Jenna Davinci is first to perform. She begins lip syncing to Hi Fashion’s ‘Amazing’, which is interrupted by Meryl Streep’s iconic ‘Cerulean’ monologue from The Devil Wears Prada. By the time Davinci is gesticulating along to Milk’s ‘Touch the Fashion’, a clear theme has emerged. Despite all this, she looks perfectly at home in horizontal stripes.
Jay Andre bounces on stage to the opening bars of Grimes’ electro-pop anthem ‘Kill V. Maim’ to the delight of the crowd. Her fishnet bodysuit is trimmed with a fringe of plastic spikes; they rustle as she dances, bristling like cheerleader pom poms. Andre‘s routine is excitable and high energy – a fitting tribute to Grimes herself.
Nora Virus wears a chintz bodysuit with a face hood, complete with a red collar and matching fishnet tights. Her melding of twee florals and skintight fetishwear results in a look that can only be described as Cath Clubkidston. Virus razzle-dazzles the audience with a routine to Victoria Wood’s ‘The Ballad of Barry and Freda’. During the week, Virus puzzled her online followers by asking around for a sturdy tea trolley. It all makes sense when, as Wood’s vocals surge over the PA, Virus comes careening across the stage on one:
“This folly, is jolly,
Bend me over backwards on me hostess trolley.
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight!”
I caught up with Virus after the show and asked what had inspired her inaugural Mother’s Meeting performance.
“When we came up with the name, my first thoughts were of 1950’s housewives at a Tupperware party, enjoying afternoon tea. I’m a huge Victoria Wood fan, she’s an absolute legend, and I stumbled across ‘The Ballad of Barry and Freda’, which I hadn’t heard for years! I couldn’t stop laughing and instantly knew I wanted to perform this. The whole idea just seemed fucked up. I’d be lip syncing to something your mom and dad would be laughing at back in the day, but dressed like something they’d have nightmares about.”
Closing the opening set of the night, Charity Kase makes her first appearance. In the advent of Ru Paul’s Drag Race the term ‘sickening’ has been thrown around to describe some drag looks. But in this instance it seems justified: Kase wears a floor length nun’s habit, but her face is a mess of grimy bandages.
Followers of her work will have been expecting an element of horror tonight, but no one can have been ready for this. Makeup obscures her mouth and eyes, so they appear as gaping holes. To the sounds of ‘Stay’ by Shakespeare’s Sister she tears off her costume, revealing an inverted cross chained to her chest. Kase looms over the shrouded cadaver she wheeled on stage with her, and with a flash of red light tears into it with a sickle. When she steps back, she is holding a blood drenched appendage aloft. No prizes for guessing what appendage that might be…
After a much needed interval, hostess Dahliah Rivers treats the crowd to a glittering routine ‘Raise the Roof’ from Andrew Lippa’s 1997 musical The Wild Party. It seems a fitting choice to kick off the second set, and Rivers luxuriates in the glamour of it.
Elliott Barnicle emerges from the DJ booth to do a number. He struts across the stage in his trademark silver leotard to the sugar-sweet pop of Little Mix’s ‘Hair’. The performance continues on a theme, with snippets of Brooke Candy’s ‘Don’t Touch My Hair Hoe’, Alaska Thunderfuck’s ‘This Is My Hair’, and Willow Smith’s ‘Whip My Hair’. The last of these sees Barnicle, who is as usual sporting his boyish haircut, produce a handful of blonde extensions and whirl them around.
No mother’s meeting would be complete without an appearance from Birmingham’s own drag matriarch, Yshee Black. Although it’s a Saturday night, Black has graced us with her Sunday best for a gospel inspired number. She sets off her blue suit-dress with a matching eye shadow. Her rousing performance is the perfect penultimate act of the night.
Returning to close the show, Charity Kase wears a pink satin nightgown and carries a Nestle Dairy Box aloft. The top half of her face is a disconcerting mask. Shanks & Bigfoot’s ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ begins to play. She saunters through the crowd towards the stage, flipping her Barbie-blonde ringlets in the faces of audience members. She offers the box of chocolates around before stuffing them into her mouth by the handful.
Throughout the lip sync, Kase goes on to consume multiple bars of Galaxy. The majority of these are produced from the depths of her frilly white underwear, and spat out again at the audience. She manages not to miss a beat of the song. When the track finishes she is sprawled on the stage, covered in melted chocolate. The next morning I find a lump of partially chewed fudge on my shoe.
The Mother’s Meeting crowd file out onto the Queensway. In true maternal fashion, Nora Virus is diligently checking that all the audience are either part of her flock heading to the The Nightingale or are getting home safely. Later, I get her thoughts on Charity Kase.
“Charity blew me away. Both performances were so well thought out. I’m always here for the strange and unusual! I’m a queer kid in both meanings of the word and she is right up my alley…”
Opulence have pulled it off tonight. I ask Virus what’s next for the group.
“Opulence are a real diverse bunch of queens. We have theatre queens, comedy queens, deathdrop bitches, the lot. You want variety, we got it honey! No two Mother’s Meetings will ever be the same. We plan to showcase the best of U.K drag in Birmingham, as well as other styles of performance. You just wait to see who we have for Mother’s Meeting part two.”
For more on Charity Kase, visit www.charitykase.co.uk
For more from Opulence, visit www.facebook.com/opulencebirmingham
For more from Bar Jester, visit www.barjester.co.uk