DEATH DROP

★★★★

_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
at _THE ALEXANDRA.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _27th NOV.

November 24, 2021
images © Matt Crockett 2021.

It’s difficult to pigeonhole the inspired insanity of Holly Stars’ Death Drop. Sure, there are undoubtedly elements of Frayn, and indeed the more recent madcappery of Mischief Theatre, to be found within its drag-powered murder mystery hijinks, and, as is to be expected, there are plenty of nods to the Drag Race metaverse that some of its headliners sprung to stardom from (‘Shantay Manor’, anyone?). But there’s a liberal dose of dry, deadpan and distinctly British comedy injected throughout, too, with Stars (on writing duty in addition to starring) slathering proceedings in quips and silliness that wouldn’t feel out of place in, say, vintage Victoria Wood, whilst at the same time shovelling on plenty of smut and silliness, too.

In short, Death Drop is complete, unbridled madness on stage. It is unapologetically silly, frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and gloriously bonkers throughout. That the entirety of the cast perform in some iteration of drag only serves to heighten the madness, but at the same time lend it an air of anarchic legitimacy in a way that only drag can.

The premise is deliberately, knowingly trope. Five strangers are summoned to a manor estate on a remote island by one Lady von Fistenburg (Drag Race UK and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’s Vinegar Strokes) to celebrate, of all things, Charles and Diana’s 10th wedding anniversary.

This being 1991, and all.

Cue a freak storm, broken telephone lines, and, eventually, bodies beginning to pile up. Drop pokes plenty of fun at its Christie-esque trappings and setup, whilst also making it crystal clear that nothing will be taken particularly seriously, either. Irreverence is the name of the game here, in a show that isn’t shy of quite literally plunging the toilet for several of its gags and humour: see a dirty, clogged-up toilet brush getting multiple, increasingly more grotesque appearances, or Strokes’ Lady von Fistenburg getting dangerously close to re-enacting her namesake on stage.

“Irreverence is the name of the game here, in a show that isn’t shy of quit literally plunging the toilet for several of its gags and humour.”

It also isn’t afraid to indulge in that greatest of drag traditions, either; bursting into song at every opportune moment.

As with any such yarn, divulging too much of the plot would spoil the fun and surprises of Death Drop; even as it makes fun of its own twists and bonkers narrative turns in wonderfully knowing fashion. Stars playing all three of the ‘Bottomley Sisters’, for instance, gets plenty of laughs throughout as the impossible casting feat is addressed (and ridiculed) in increasingly hilarious ways.

Drag Becomes Her: Since debuting at the Garrick Theatre, London, in December 2020, Death Drop has welcomed a number of Drag Race alumni to its cast, including such favourites as Monet X Change and Courtney Act (pictured above).

But given that so much of Death Drop’s tongue is wedged firmly in its cheek (careful), it is on the shoulders of its characters and performances that the show lives or dies (or gets electrocuted… or worse).

Major names from amongst the Rupaul’s Drag Race alumni have pivoted around the show since it opened last December, lending it some star wattage along the way. Courtney Act, Monét X Change and Latrice Royale have been amongst those who have trodden the boards in various roles in Drop in the West End, whilst this touring production brings back iconic Drag Race rebel Willam (memorably disqualified from the show’s fourth season) and welcomes recent All Stars 6 finalist, Ra’jah O’Hara, the aforementioned Vinegar Strokes, and Drag Race Down Under’s Karen From Finance.

Of the ‘Ru’ girls, Willam and Karen are plenty of fun in their roles as a washed-up popstar and Piers Morgan-inspired soulless sleeze journalist, respectively, but it’s Strokes and O’Hara who really run away with proceedings. Ra’jah is a comedic tour-de-force here, her physicality, exaggerated mannerisms and innate comic timing all pitch-perfect and delicious throughout. And Strokes commands such a sense of character, bombast and silliness that she frequently threatens to steal the entire show.

“Ra’jah is a comedic tour-de-force here, her physicality, exaggerated mannerisms and innate comic timing all pitch-perfect and delicious throughout.”

And whilst the Drag Race girls may be the star attractions here – something that’s clear from the audible cheers and reaction as each make their eventual arrival to the story – they nonetheless share the stage with a formidable trio of comedy performers in Richard Energy, Georgia Frost and Stars herself. Energy and Frost completely disappear into their roles of bigoted, misogynistic Tory MP ‘Rich Whiteman’ (he *hates* women, you know) and lecherous media producer ‘Phil Maker’ (all groin and gyration), with each showcasing not just an exquisite eye for transformative, idiosyncratic character work, but generally razor-sharp comic timing and command of the stage, too.

Stars, on (sort of) triple role duty, meanwhile, is deliciously dry and loveable, and the first to give a ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ to the audience that it’s ok to not take any of it all too seriously. Whether it’s an extended monologue bemoaning the perils of Princess Diana potentially venturing into an overflowing lavatory, or a delicious barrage of wordplay jostling with every British tongue twister you could possibly imagine, Stars is a joyfully sardonic presence throughout.

Perhaps the easiest way of categorising Death Drop, then, is to say that it is, quite simply, great drag. Great, spirited, anarchic, smutty, hilarious British drag in all its silly, gritty, glory. It may not always make complete sense, it frequently aims for the gutter (gleefully so) and it may even be a bit rough around the edges in places, but its in the bizarreness, the seams, and the rough-and-ready imperfections that its charms lie.

Go in expecting Chekhov and, of course, you’ll be disappointed (deservedly so). But go in expecting a camp, vibrant blast of vulgarity, sexy silliness and infectious mayhem from a killer (pun intended) cast, and shantay, you will most certainly be wanting to stay.

A gleefully silly, knowingly bonkers spin on Christie that makes Frayn seem tame by comparison, Stars and company have delicious drag fun here, with O’Hara and Strokes particularly killer.

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