Words & pics by Eleanor Sutcliffe
It’s 8pm on a Sunday evening and Ashleigh and I are soaked. We’ve worked Birmingham Pride for two days and have just traipsed our way through monsoon rain to the doors of the Symphony Hall for RuPaul’s Werq The World Tour.
Having decided to wear slightly fancier clothing than our usual jeans and t-shirt ensemble for tonight’s occasion, I’m regretting my decision already – dresses were not made with practicality in mind, and this combined with the thunderous weather (and being forced to run in heels) has left us both looking, and feeling, worse for wear.
It gets even worse as we descend into the foyer too. Fans are dressed up to the nines in their best clothing, with platform thigh high boots and latex bodysuits seemingly the norm. We didn’t expect anything less, mind – when you’re coming to a show that features some of the biggest names in drag, it’s a given that fans will don themselves in outfits as outlandish as the performance we’re about to witness. Wrestling our way to our seats, we settle in and prepare ourselves for the evening ahead.
The lights go down and a quartet of male dancers make their way onto the stage. On swans Lady Bunny, who opens the show by lip-syncing to Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ to a backdrop of lightning – fitting, considering the weather we traipsed through to get to the show. A departure board flashes up and one by one, each queen does a single lap of the stage before disappearing backstage. They are all present and correct, with each queen garnering more support than the last.
Detox flings flowers out to the crowd before swearing at the front row before sauntering off, much to the attendee’s delight. The furor is deafening as Latrice waltzes her way on stage, who laughs and smiles as fans screech and click their fingers back and forth. Finally, they all reappear and dance along to a heavy pop track, the choreography for which Lady Bunny claims is inspired by “the hashish we got from Amsterdam”.
And so begins the show – first up is Kennedy Davenport, who sashays onstage to an upbeat instrumental dance track seemingly inspired by the Rio carnival. Dressed in a black ruffled cloak, this is soon cast away to reveal a fringed green, yellow and blue bodysuit. Her performance includes all the signature drag dance moves includes the painful looking ‘death drop’ (if you don’t know what this is, Google away). The sheer energy that Davenport brings to the stage is incredibly impressive – I’m sweltering under the lights just taking her photo, so how she manages to leap back and forth is beyond me. The crowd’s response is one of sheer delight and Davenport takes a bow before running offstage.
Next, a Seoul backdrop appears as Kim Chi slowly makes her way on stage accompanies by and eerie piano instrumental. The screen shows a dark pink sea and moon which, coupled with her short white skirt and blonde wig, gives away the Sailor Moon inspiration behind the performance. As the backing dancers mimic each character from the anime, Chi twirls out of her costume to reveal a sparkling white ballgown, before launching into a lip sync routine to the Sailor Moon theme tune, which is edited to include a heavy bass line. Though she struggles to lip sync along to the track, she more than makes up for it in after the performance when talking to Lady Bunny.
Forever the comedy queen, Chi claims her favorite part about Drag Race was “free catering” and how the most important lesson she learnt was that life isn’t always about winning – “it’s about losing to black people occasionally”. Personally, I’ve never felt incredibly comfortable with drag humour as it can seem rather crass and humiliating to me on occasion, however the comments go down a storm with the room so who am I to judge?
To break up the performance, Lady Bunny announces a game rather inventively named ‘Wig in a Box’. The rules are simple – four members of the audience will be selected and will delve into a large cardboard box, emerging with a rather beaten up wig. The aim of the game is to lip-sync along to the accompanying track, and whoever’s performance is best, wins.
Despite my best endeavors to coax fellow writer, Ashleigh, up on stage, she’s not having it in the slightest, and I personally cannot think of anything worse than stepping out onto the Symphony Hall stage only to publicly humiliate myself for the slight chance of winning a free T shirt. Four individuals are selected and make their way on stage, which angers a woman at the back who feels the need to collapse in the aisle while belting out ‘It Should Have Been Me’ by Yvonne Fair. She is gently escorted back to her seat under the seething comments of Lady Bunny, who claims “bitch, I don’t come to your job at Mcdonalds and tell you what to do”. The crowd goes wild. I begin to re-evaluate my life choices.
I am in no place to judge here either, as each competitor who forced their head into one of those wigs clearly has way more balls than I ever will. However, it is the young man who has to lip-sync to P!nk’s ‘So What’ who has me in stitches.
After cowering in his seat momentarily, he soon launches into a full routine which includes a cartwheel, handsprings, a border line striptease and a death drop that has me flinching in pain. Finishing by grinding on his chair to the cacophony of applause, even Lady Bunny seems to be impressed, or concerned, I’m not sure which one. She crowns him the winner and flings him an official Werq the World t-shirt before carrying on with the show.
Next is Sharon Needles, who Lady Bunny welcomes by claiming she “puts the gore in gorgeous”. Her style of drag has always been a favourite of mine, as she goes against the grain and puts a horror spin on the art form. Entering the stage clad in a black veil and dress, she stands still as a dancer in a latex devil mask twirls around her, accompanied by text that says, ‘enough of that, let the sacrifice begin’.
‘Marry the Night’ by Lady Gaga soon starts blaring out of the speakers and the veil is cast away in favour of a black latex bodysuit. The lip sync soon morphs into her own 2017 release ‘Black Licorice’, and the screen behind shows images of a rabbit decomposing as she dances across the stage. Closing her performance with the phrase “Happy Halloween, hail Satan, being gay is punk and kill your parents”, Needles strolls off stage without a care in the world as the crowd descends into ecstasy behind her.
The following performance is most definitely NSFW; Detox has always been known for her rather outlandish antics, however she truly goes to town tonight. Sporting a long black coat and lip-syncing along to what we think is ‘S.E.X’ by Madonna, she reveals a red latex corset and kinky boots as her outfit of choice, accompanied by a long, latex ponytail reminiscent of a whip.
Her dancers are soon stripped down to red latex pants the size of postage stamps as she grinds on each one in turn, much to the joy of the crowd and the embarrassment of the parents present. After attaching a rope to the collars of each dancer she has them walk around her like puppies, further hinting at the dominatrix influences on her performance. It’s clearly the fan’s favourite so far, as a woman runs down the aisle to stuff notes of money into Detox’s thong.
Lady Bunny appears again, this time to perform a rather controversial ditty that mocks each of the major drag queens we have seen throughout RuPaul. Again, this is not my humour, however the crowd seemingly lap it up, squealing at the controversy it may cause. But the whole thing seems shallow and crass to me, with most of the comments focusing on the looks, sizes, or nationalities of the queens. For a show which prides itself in being inclusive to all forms of drag, I find myself uncomfortable during this performance. I occupy myself cleaning my camera lens until the next act comes on.
All it takes is the signature twang of a Spanish guitar for me to know that Valentina is soon to perform. Her lip sync and dancing is second to none, however I cannot help but feel fans are growing slightly bored of the continuous references to her nationality. She is an incredibly skilled and talented performer, and I feel she could expand on this considerably if the company were more willing to look outside the box. Regardless, Valentina‘s performance is amazing as per usual, and I marvel at the grace and elegance she brings to the stage. The mariachi style dance goes down a storm with the crowd too, with fans at the front nearly in tears.
Ah, Violet Chachki… If I have a soft spot for any queen, it’s her. Descending upon the blue lit stage in a typical sequined burlesque gown, the aesthetics of her performance are simply stunning. Coupled with her cabaret style dancing and aerial skills, her show tonight is truly breathtaking.Casting the gown aside for a sequined leotard, she hops into the aerial hoop with more grace than I could ever possess, which is then hoisted into the rafters of the Symphony Hall. Spinning and twirling at a speed that would make me vomit on the crowd, Chachki goes through several daring moves, each one riskier than the last. The variety breaks up the night well, and she receives ecstatic applause from the crowd.
And finally, Latrice Royale, saving the best until last. She is introduced clad in theatrical regal gown complete with the biggest ruffled collar I’ve ever seen in my life. Her performance is based around her latest single ‘Excuse the Beauty’, which has the entire audience up out of their seats for the first time this evening. She is flung a white and mint flag by one of the dancers which she incorporates into her routine, hurling and spinning it though the air like a baton twirler. Clearly the crowd favourite, fans are in tears at this point, screaming their praise as Royale bows and exits the stage.
As Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ pulses from the speakers, each of the queens emerges from backstage donning silver sequined outfits to take their final bow. At this point, fans begin the crowd the aisles, desperate to make their way to the stage to sing their praises. Even the queens seem slightly surprised at the sheer support that is being shown, as the shake hands with fans and blow kisses.
As we leave the Symphony Hall, I’m slightly speechless. It’s rare I leave a show surprised – on the contrary, I’m usually picking flaws from the moment I’m back out on the street. However, the atmosphere is electric and seeing fans this excited at the performances they have just witnessed warms my soul slightly. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting for the response from an audience, even to such a high profile to a drag show, to be this strong. But it is. And I love it.
RuPaul’s Drag Race Werq the World Tour @ Symphony Hall 27.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe
For more on RuPaul’s Werq the World Tour, visit www.vossevents.com/events/werq-the-world
For more both the Symphony and Town Halls, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.thsh.co.uk