It’s not outlandish to say drag and the theatre share a long and intertwined history – from the initial casting restrictions of Shakespeare to iconic characters like Hairspray’s Edna Turnblad. More recently there’s been a resurgence in drag-based theatre, likely in part thanks to the rampant rise in popularity within the zeitgeist. Now with Holly Stars’ Death Drop, it once again takes centre stage in a riff on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None that is as campy and chaotic as one might expect.
Set in the halcyon days of 1991, Death Drop sees five celebrities invited to the mysterious Tuck Island by the equally enigmatic Lady Rosebud Von Fistenburg. Along with the hired help – the three Bottomley sisters who all look eerily alike- the group soon find themselves the target of a murderer. Tensions quickly flare and accusations hurled as the intertwined history of the group is slowly revealed in suitably hilarious fashion.
Despite its gaudy nature (this is the 90s after all) Justin Williams’ set design is the perfect setting for the night’s events, excellently blending a Christie-esque manor and 90s decor. It flows perfectly with the baroque aesthetics of the Kings Theatre. When the drag queens and kings take to the stage, it comes alive as they sashay around bringing a very British level of anarchic comedy with them. Nothing is off limits here, with references to crispy pancakes, EastEnders, and Prince Andrew being just the tip of the iceberg.
That said, there’s a fine line between these references being hilarious and tedious, one that Death Drop often strays across. Jokes are dragged out to within an inch of their lives, even when they’re not always good. Be it by Stockholm syndrome or some other miracle though, some of these do eventually become funny, even if takes a while to get there.
It’s worth noting at this point that fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race will not be disappointed. Especially thanks to the presence of alumni like Willam, Ra’Jah O’Hara, and Vinegar Strokes, but also in terms of humour and references. For better or worse, Death Drop feels like an incredibly extended skit from one of the show’s acting challenges.
This does mean it’s a mixed bag of a performance. It’s very much a play of two halves, both in terms of its acts – with the second being the stronger, if only because the first commits so much time establishing both characters and jokes – and in terms of audience expectation. It’s in the latter department particularly that there may be some discontent.
Drag shows are notorious for heckling, and are part of the experience. However, Death Drop is not a drag show in the traditional sense: it’s a play. Attempts by the audience to interject fall on deaf ears. In fact, the actors appear visibly frustrated, to the point where they are unafraid to chastise accordingly. Never one to mince her words, Willam especially doesn’t hold back in telling the audience to be quiet. For those expecting a typical theatrical experience then, be warned: this is anything but.
That’s not to say there’s no fourth-wall breaking humour. There’s plenty, and it often excellently acknowledges the worn-out format of a big-house murder. The cast are clearly having a lot of fun parodying the genre too. Willam and Ra’Jah bring necessary star power but also craft niches for themselves, while Stars, Strokes, and Karen from Finance each navigate their roles with aplomb whenever they appear on stage.
The stars of the show however are undoubtedly the drag kings. Kings are still looked down upon in certain circles for some inexplicable reason, but Georgia Frost and Richard Energy steal the show as Phil Maker and Rich Whiteman. Their exaggerated personas and infectious energy prove that they are just as deserving of recognition as any of their co-stars, and provide a different take on a familiar formula.
While not everything may necessarily land with Death Drop, it is ultimately an enjoyable show packed with comedy and chaotic energy. When it comes to blending drag and theatre, it could do a lot worse. For those fully invested in the world of drag, then it’s likely all they could want and more.