Sunday, 13 December 2020

REVIEW: Death Drop at the Garrick Theatre

The Garrick reopens post-pandemic with a new play as a vehicle for two of Ru Paul’s Drag Race stars, Courtney Act and Monet X Change to strut their stuff on the mainstream West End stage with an overlay of Potted Panto at other times to use the socially distanced capacity more effectively. It’s a bold move and its commercial success in bringing these two talented performers to a wider audience will depend as much on whether London remains Tier 2 for Covid restrictions as on the show itself.

The plot, as far as there is one, is a cross-dressing of Agatha Christie’s book and play “and then there were none” (a story that itself had to change its name to be politically correct) and the breakout commercial success of “the play that goes wrong”. No doubt the marketeers were thrilled by both the title “Deathdrop”, a reference to particular drag artiste manoeuvre and the tag line “Dragatha Christie murder mystery” which should leave the audience in no doubt what to expect from the show.

The programme notes highlight that drag has been part of the mainstream West End stage for a long time and sets up comparisons with the great stars that have gone before such as Danny La Rue, “La Cage Aux Folles”, Lily Savage, Edna Turnball in “Hairspray” and “Kinky Boots” all of which I have seen and enjoyed in shows with high production values and witty clever scripts. “Deathdrop” does not pretend to have either and revels in its cheap-looking set, boudoir pink lighting, and a broad basic camp humour verging on slapstick. There is a running gag about diarrhoea (which prevents Elle Macpherson and Claudia Schiffer appearing), dated references to cheese and pineapple hedgehogs, Fab ice lollies, and Vienetta and bad taste gags about Jim’ll fix it and Rolf Harris. It is after all set in 1991!

However, there are better comedy moments borrowed from pantomime with tongue twisters about pheasant plucking, Shelly selling shells by the seashore, and Peter Piper in a pickled peppers factory which work very well, and some good gags related to the naming of the cast members. Morgan Pierce, the World of News Editor is played by Anna Phylactic with tape recorder in hand, Monet X Change is the American weather girl Summer Raines and Courtney Act is Shazza the singer from Australia. Vinegar Stokes plays the mysterious Lady Von Fistenberg, the hostess of the Charles and Di 10th anniversary party on Tuck Island. The male characters are Phil Maker, the lecherous TV producer played by Kemah Bob and Rick (known as Rich to hammer home the parody) Whiteman the seedy conservative MP played by LoUis CYfer. The whole show is held together by the writer Holly Stars as the Bottomley triplets, Blue, Brie and Spread (their mother loved cheese) who have been hired to do the catering and add to the dead body count as the show progresses. One of the biggest laughs is when Stars is forced to shut the front door which has inadvertently swung open preventing a scene change and all react delightfully to the moment. 

If anything, the show is overlong and at times drags (Pardon the pun). The tempo and energy lifts when 
Courtney Act and Monet X Change are on stage and bursts into life with short snippets of song that allow them both to show off. They both look amazing with elegant costumes, makeup and hair, sound excellent, move well and draw appreciative laughter and applause from the audience, demonstrating they have the talent to be genuine West End stage stars. It will be interesting to see what they do next when a more certain environment allows Producers to invest more in the shows or to catch Courtney Act at the Palladium in her show “Fluid” in April.

This would have been a perfect fun silly party night out for offices and friends, but social distancing rules restrict audiences to social or support bubbles and we must keep our fingers crossed that the West End stays out of tier 3 next week to enable the Producers and the cast to keep the show on. Then, perhaps, the supporting cast will relax in their performances, be less laboured in their delivery, ad-lib and interact with the audience more often, as I am sure they all do in cabaret and then perhaps challenge those critics who question whether Stars is really in her words, “the greatest playwright the world has ever seen”.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Dress circle row B | Price of ticket: £50

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