Words by Lydia Fitzer / Pics by Eleanor Sutcliffe
It’s Sunday night and I’m feeling fierce. I’m wearing my finest studs and tassels. I’m ready to strut into the O2 Academy with twinkly eyes and lacy thighs to communicate with a higher being: The Goddess of Drag. Tonight she will be channelled by Magical Queens with wit as sharp as their nails.
The first Magical Queen to the stage is no less glorious for being less famous. Her name is Meth. She emerges in a charcoal gown which glimmers like glass. Her purple hair is opulent. Her makeup is overstated and ferocious – yellows, purples, black and harsh white. Her face screams “Don’t f*ck with me”, but her personality is so endearing that you fall in love. She is the best friend you wish you had. Or perhaps the most loveable evil step mother of all time, as demonstrated by her opening Disney-themed lip sync. Her set has a real personal touch. You want to get to know her better – you want to follow her career.
Meth performs to grandiose tracks in an almost self-depreciating comical style, using slapstick to poke fun at the song and at herself. It’s really hilarious. Despite that, it’s clear that her performance is highly skilled. She jokes that her fans know she loves “standing and doing FA” lip syncing to a ballad, but there is nothing lazy about this queen. She bounds across the stage like a sexy kangaroo, if such a thing were possible.
For her final number, a lip sync of Meatloaf’s ‘Bat Out of Hell’, Meth asks the audience to imagine lots of fire and special effects (although she really doesn’t need to – she is pure fire). She steps forth in white tights, shrouded in a black shimmery cape. She is already the most gorgeous bat I’ve ever seen. When the first chorus hits, she spreads her arms and opens her cape into – you guessed it – a giant pair of bat wings. It was a glorious moment. She brings truly world-class lip sync and comic delivery, plus the gnarliest air guitar in history. I am convinced by this performance that Meth is correct – Meatloaf is, in fact, “a lazy f*cking drag queen”.
Meth’s set is all too short, although it is a delicious appetiser for BenDeLaCrème. I seriously appreciate how Meth tailors her performance to complement DeLa’s theme. It sets the audience up perfectly for a premature tour of the less-desirable afterlife.
“I hate to burst your Beelzebubble, but we’ll be talking about 14th Century Italian Literature.”
Yep, you heard her correctly. DeLa is basing Inferno A-Go-Go on Dante’s Inferno. It’s the first part of The Divine Comedy, during which Dante travels through the Nine Circles of Hell and ultimately meets the Devil himself. Don’t worry – if you see this tour, you’re not expected to be familiar with Dante’s Inferno. DeLa asks, “Who has actually read Dante’s Inferno?” In response to scattered cheers, she says, “Ah, so here we have the nerds… and the liars!” Not to worry, though. DeLa has “thoroughly skimmed the CliffsNotes”, and is ready to guide us through the experience admirably.
She writhes onto stage, doubled over in a hooded black cloak. You hear her introduce the agonies of hell in a deep, sinister voice… and with perfect comic timing, break into a coughing fit. She throws off her cloak to reveal a tiny red tasselled number, complete with Devil ears.
Before she leads us into the world below, however, she does address the elephant in the room. Most RuPaul fans will be aware of BenDeLaCrème only through RuPaul’s Drag Race and All Stars. Season 6 of Drag Race saw DeLa crowned as Miss Congeniality, and Season 3 of All Stars brought that dramatic self-elimination after she was on track to win. DeLa is well aware that a few of the audience are only here because of these shows. She confronts this by giving precisely six seconds of All Stars fan service, for anyone in the audience who’s just dying to hear Maria von Trapp sing RuPaul’s ‘Call Me Mother’. Then no more. This is DeLa’s show, and you will get to know her as the artist she truly is.
DeLa claims that her passion is “taking something smart and making it just a little bit stupid.” Honestly, while her interpretation of Dante’s Inferno is a lot more accessible to a modern audience, I think that what she’s really done is add her own type of smart. The jokes are current, sharp, and sometimes just on the right side of being a bad pun. For me she’s her own brand of comic genius.
We enter Hell to the most delightful parody of Miley Cyrus’s ‘Party in the USA’; ‘Party in the HEL’. As DeLa points out, there is a clear link between human suffering and Miley Cyrus’s music. She sings rather than lip syncs, bouncing between teen pop bubbles and bloodcurdling screams of horror. It’s immaculate and seemingly effortless. I definitely prefer it to the original.
There is a large screen on stage used to set the scene of Hell. While DeLa sneaks away to change, a short video plays which introduces Hell in holiday cruise-ship style. It flows seamlessly into the rest of the show. DeLa re-emerges in a kitschy pink and yellow ensemble to rapturous admiration.
I won’t describe every single detail of the rest of the show, because I don’t want to spoil it for you. You have to go see it for yourself. I will share some pearls of wisdom from the Second Circle of Hell, though. Did you know that if you’re a pervert who watches Internet porn, you’ll be doomed to spend eternity in the form of the rags you use to wipe up your “sinful seed”? Also, DeLa found herself questioning why there seemed to be no women in the lustful area of Hell. According to a travel brochure, “Women who enjoy sex are in Hell, but it’s just our regular living world.”
Continuing down through Hell, I notice that DeLa’s comedy is incredibly political. We’re given an amazing satire of America’s gun crisis by a centaur. He happens to be a Hellian patriot in a ‘Make Hell Great Again’ cap. He punishes black people who once smoked a joint on the same level as white people who drove a bus full of orphaned nuns into a lake. When DeLa questions his obvious racism, she takes an arrow to the butt. The centaur isn’t sorry, though – apparently, he’s proud of his right to bear arms. Sound familiar?
It’s funny, though. All of the social satire is incredibly funny… Until we meet the harpy and her trees. The trees are a sudden, profound reminder that in the real world these issues have serious consequences. The trees are the prison of the souls who committed suicide, and, as the harpy says, “Never did nothing to nobody […] Society failed them”. DeLa wonders why those souls are doomed to Hell at all. She asks, “Who is deciding this stuff? Is it demons or… the Devil or… God or… someone else?” She speaks in a whisper, and the silence is deafening.
We go straight from here to the most fabulous part of Hell, the gay beach (I love the accuracy of DeLa’s interpretations. In the original Inferno, the sodomites inhabited a desert of burning sand). It’s an almost immediate antidote to the sadness of a few moments ago. The comedy is pumped to the max, and the vibe is infectious. DeLa asks, “Is that Nancy Reagan?” “Yeah,” says our ultra-camp new friend. “She isn’t gay but this is still her Hell.”
DeLa takes us through the Eighth Circle of Hell using ‘Disco Inferno’, complete with tight rap and the cheesiest of dance moves. We tour all ten ditches to a perfect musical performance. The comedy is excellent, and every movement is exactly in sync with the soundtrack.
Finally we reach the Ninth Circle of Hell, and a suspiciously Wizard Of Oz-esque Satan greets us on the big screen. DeLa decides to look behind the curtain, and after a hilarious back and forth during which she finds no-one, the Devil cries, “It’s you!” she replies, “Well that’s stupid. […] Why would I put myself through Hell? […] Why would I have decided that all those people are bad?” We’re treated to the corniest closing song in all the worlds and afterlives; ‘We all make the Hell that we burn in’. BenDeLaCrème leaves the stage to an earthquake of applause.
BenDeLaCrème’s Inferno A-Go-Go! is great. It is really great. It is multi-coloured. DeLa gave me DIY greenscreen to ventriloquism (I will remember meeting Indulgence Gluttington to my dying day). She and two audience members created the River Styx using pure fabric and elbow grease. She almost moved me to tears with an arrow sticking out of her butt. I leave the O2 Academy feeling strong, as though I’m breathing new air. She pulled the sulphur from my lungs.
For more on BenDeLaCrème, visit www.bendelacreme.com
For more on Meth, visit www.instagram.com/methedragqueen
For more from the MJR Group, including further event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.themjrgroup.com
For more on the O2 Academy Birmingham, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2academybirmingham
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