Death Drop

Nov 18 2021 | By More

★★★☆☆      Premature pantomime

King’s Theatre: Wed 17 – Sat 20 Nov 2021
Review by Hugh Simpson

Death Drop, from Tuck Shop and Trafalgar Theatre Productions at the King’s until Saturday, is an uneven affair – camp, garish and ultimately entertaining.

An oddly-assorted group assembles on an island for a party. They are then stranded and begin to be picked off one by one… So far, so familiar, but this is not your normal crime thriller. The script (by Holly Stars from an idea by Christopher D. Clegg) is acted by a group of drag performers, including some familiar from RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Vinegar Strokes, Willam, Holly Stars. Pic: Matt Crockett

With its knowing air, unsubtle innuendo, breaking of the fourth wall, exaggerated costumes and set, deliberate mistakes, and even a couple of routines based on tongue twisters, this is much closer to a traditional pantomime than its creators would probably care to admit.

Some elements would undoubtedly be out of place in family entertainment; there will certainly be a good deal less in the way of self-pleasuring or faeces-flinging next month at the King’s, and the 12+ guideline seems extremely low in this regard. However, these moments are rare (and relatively unsuccessful) and the rest is definitely reminiscent of a Donald McGill postcard.

Since it is all so resolutely British and unusually old-fashioned, it is hardly surprising that the performers from the US version of Drag Race often seem least at home. Willam and Ra’Jah O’Hara lead the billing and publicity, but could not be said to dominate events.

pleasingly caustic

There is, however, a pleasingly caustic nature to Willam’s Madonna-wannabe Shazza, while O’Hara has a regal presence (despite regularly affecting a French accent that is no doubt intended to be impenetrable but soon irritates).

Instead, the central figures are Stars, whose role as the identical Bottomley triplets is a wonderfully old-school North of England comic turn, and Vinegar Strokes, who plays the mysterious Lady von Fistenberg with a combination of haughty disdain and absurd panic.

George Orell with Vinegar Strokes. Pic: Matt Crockett

Added spice is provided by a couple of drag king performances, with both Richard Energy’s Tory MP and Georgia Frost’s lascivious TV producer providing expansive performances, oozing toxic masculinity.

Karen From Finance, from the Australian iteration of Drag Race, is frighteningly compelling as an amoral tabloid editor.

That her character is called ‘Morgan Pierce’ from ‘The World of The News’ (not to mention Phil Maker the film-maker) is a good reflection of the sledgehammer nature of the humour on show here. There is a great deal of energy and wit on display elsewhere, with Stars and Karen From Finance particularly strong on comic timing. However, there are also too many weak jokes.

an easy laugh

The setting is 1991, at a party to celebrate Charles and Diana’s 10th anniversary. Cue a lot of tired remarks about the Royal Family, and mentions of Findus Crispy Pancakes or Anneka Rice designed merely to elicit an easy laugh out of recognition. References to Jimmy Savile, meanwhile, are probably designed to be ‘edgy’, but come across as unnecessary and puerile.

That much of the humour does succeed shows that this is mainly a problem with editing – something that could be applied to the whole show.

Ra’Jah O’Hara. Pic: Matt Crockett

While it has some fun with the tropes of the genre, it fails to work as a whodunnit. There is no attempt at suspense, and the ending is a complete mess. This is not helped by a second half which is longer than the first and drags terribly as a result. The show undoubtedly has its heart in the right place politically, but its lack of nuance does grate.

There is real fun to be had, however. The sound and lighting of Beth Duke and Jack Weir are as brash and full of brio as the performances, while the in-your-face nature of Jesse Jones’s direction makes it very difficult to dislike. Flo and Joan’s songs are clever and tuneful – we could probably even do with a couple more, giving the performance more of a cabaret feel.

As it is, it remains an oddly traditional entertainment, but a peculiarly likeable one.

Running time: Two hours 25 minutes (including one interval).
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, EH3 9LQ
Wednesday 15 – Saturday 20 November 2021
Wed-Fri at 7.30 pm; Sat at 4.00 pm and 8.00 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

George Orell, Vinegar Strokes, Richard Energy Ra’Jah O’Hara, Karen From Finance, Willam. Pic: Matt Crockett


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