The underground drag scene has come out from the clubs and taken over the Royal Court in this show co-created by Travis Alabanza and Debbie Hannan.
With one performer absent last night, replaced by a voiceover and a cut-out, the play is slightly diminished by the lack of Midgitte Bardot but enhanced by the seven remaining performers.
It takes a while to warm up, this show. After the “who we are” introductions, we find ourselves in a kitchen set where preparations are being made for a union meeting. It’s all a bit knowing, and deliberately awkward.
As the act progresses, the performers lip synch their own words and those of the rest of the cast to highlight how drag is changing, the contrast and conflicts between the mainsteam and the underground, and where the money is (“huns” on hen nights, corporate gigs).
It’s a potent mix from this diverse group, which includes a trans man, a cis woman, a non-binary artist, and a gender-fluid rapper. All very different, but supporting each other’s choices within the queer space, these drag queens and kings get their chance to shine in act two, which turns Sloane Square’s theatre into a club cabaret.
Our seven artists all have their moments: Sue Gives A Fuck as compere/commenter on the history of the drag scene; Sadie Sinner the Songbird oozes glamour; Wet Mess is a subversive creation who bursts from a binbag in act one and a painting in act two; Ms Sharon Le Grand reveals operatic depths in the works of The Cheeky Girls.
Rhys’s Pieces is a “one-stop cabaret troupe” and a fine mover, while Lilly Snatchdragon challenges the image of Asian women through her striptease, and Chiyo’s political posturing gives food for thought on trans safety and objectification.
Sound of the Underground is a very funny show, unafraid to celebrate diversity and gender-fluidity. It is also filthy and fiery. I immediately went on to read up on the performers I was less familiar with, and I would urge you to do the same.
With this show and My Son’s a Queer both in town, the visibility and celebration of performers who challenge traditional labels has burst into the consciousness.
At the Royal Court, a predominately young and LGBTQIA audience cheeres, applauded, stamped – and, crucially – accepted these performers and their skills.
Alabanza has been creating interesting and vibrant work for some time now, notably Overflow at the Bush. They are proving a key voice in queer theatre, with their curation of the recent set of plays delivered over the phone, When All Is Said.
Sound of the Underground is a lively party of bright lights, body and gender positivity, and a very big heart.
You can watch the show at the Royal Court until 25 Feb – tickets here.
Image credit: Helen Murray