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‘About as subtle as a sledgehammer, but it’s a lot more fun’: DEATH DROP – Garrick Theatre ★★★★

Garrick Theatre, London – until 17 January 2021
Guest reviewer: Alun Hood

In a year as stupendously out-of-whack as 2020, it should come as no surprise perhaps that one of the most eagerly-anticipated shows of the festive season consists of septet of drag superstars taking over a major West End theatre in order to play merry hell with Agatha Christie (or Dragatha Christie, as the marketing for Death Drop would have it). Situated at some bespangled junction between a full-on drag show, traditional panto and the hoary old murder mysteries Ms Christie specialised in, Death Drop is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. But it’s a lot more fun.

Beyond the sheer force of personalities of the stars involved – and more on them in a second – the main reason why the show works so well as an overall piece of theatre, as opposed to an episodic drag-a-thon where each fabulous performer gets to pitch her, his or their bit directly at the audience, is that author Holly Stars genuinely seems to respect the somewhat hackneyed conventions of the whodunnit genre, and has created an actual story on which to hang the outrageous campery and often inspired lunacy.

All the elements are here: a creaky but grand old house on a remote island temporarily cut off from the outside world, a thunderstorm raging overhead, a selection of mismatched guests some of whom have (metaphorical) axes to grind… but with added drag. If there are moments when the audience isn’t screaming with mirth quite as much as one might have expected, that may be because they’re actually trying to follow the storyline.

Although the plot is all but abandoned later in the second half and Stars seems unable to find a satisfactory conclusion to this murderous tall tale, you’ll probably be laughing too much to care. Besides, similar issues haven’t proved an obstacle to success for The Play That Goes Wrong, which has just reopened on the other side of Covent Garden.

Anyway, nobody will go to Death Drop for the story; they’ll turn up to worship at the stiletto-ed feet of this literally glittering cast. Australian Courtney Act – garishly beautiful and arguably the biggest mainstream drag star to emerge since RuPaul – and stylish New Yorker Monét X Change get top billing, and both provide great, glamorous value.

For my money though, the real standouts are some of the slightly lesser-known performers. Anna Phylactic is so poised and convincing as a poisonous gutter press journalist that she’d only have to dial it down a couple of notches to star in a real Midsomer Murders, and Kemah Bob is shockingly funny as an endlessly priapic, shamelessly naff film-maker called Phil Maker (say it out loud).

LoUis CYfer delivers world class clowning and brings the house down as a rancid Tory politician and Vinegar Strokes is gorgeous as shady hostess-with-a-secret (several secrets in fact) Lady Von Fistenburg. Playwright Holly Stars actually does, er, star, and proves to be something very special indeed as the trio of downtrodden working class sisters (Brie, Blue and Spread, named after their Mum’s favourite cheeses) who have the misfortune to be catering for, and serving, the über-glam guests. Despite being hilariously absurd, with their obsessive knowledge of 1980s/90s junk foods and ongoing inability to distinguish Courtney Act’s Antipodean pop star character from Kylie Minogue, the sisters are lent a sort of bruised dignity by their creator and actually manage to be oddly and unexpectedly touching in amongst all the madness.

Jesse Jones’s production moves at a heck of a pace: if it feels about fifteen minutes too long, that’s probably because the script itself could do with a bit of pruning. All in all though, this is a hugely enjoyable night out. Perfect festive entertainment (for adults only, there are F-bombs aplenty) and an entrancing alternative to pantomime.



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