At one stage in his show Bianca Del Rio made a light-hearted moan that there are drag queens everywhere, which is true and makes her rise to stardom, selling hundreds of tickets to a hugely enthusiastic St David’s Hall audience, all the more impressive.
Del Rio is best known to the audience as the winner of Season 6 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race and, like the proliferation of drag queens, that similarly hugely popular show, and all manner of spinoffs, also got a swipe or a hundred for going on and on and on. I don’t think she actually really meant either.
Now confession time. I have only seen the odd clip of any Drag Race and despite being a gay man didn’t quite get it (I know, I know, it shouldn’t be necessary to say that but clearly a large percentage of the audience were of various shades of the LGBT persuasion). Neither have I seen the performer in Something About Jamie on stgae or screen, although I have seen the Hurricane Bianca, which was fun. The downside of this is lack of familiarity with the Drag Race would is not really getting a lot of the jokes about other Drag Race contestants, when I say jokes I mean massive put downs, although I did get the Ru Paul impersonations.
Fortunately, a great deal of the humour, the references, the contemporary anecdotes, did not require this Drag Race backstory and the more outrageous they were, Jews, paedophiles, child murderers, Madeline McCann, the more the audience lapped it up. It will ruin the show for others who have not heard the jokes and sketches, but they were as unsound and un-PC as you would expect. Some were rather long and laboured, such as the Anne Frank stage show, but most of the intentionally tasteless jokes were old school shock them into gasping variety.
The context for the show is how she survived lockdown, banter with audience members about what they did, and then a running line about lots of people dying which was carried through into other contexts such as the Jewish and even abortion routines.
It is also part of drag queen culture to insult your audience and why people enjoy being humiliated is beyond me, but indeed they do. Particular targets are lesbians, fat people, especially fat lesbians, and so on with everyone referred to as bitch and a certain four-letter word used so often it lost any shock value.
So much of the humour would be totally unacceptable if coming from the mouth of a non-drag queen (just look at the faux outrage at Jimmy Carr’s gypsy holocaust joke) and some of it is both trite and obvious – but the audience lapped it up so, hey, who’s not laughing?
The audience Q&A at the end of the show ultimately took the form of answering questions from people who had paid to go to a pre-show VIP meet event. They ranged from oddly dreary questions, an awkward one about choosing between two men in a relationship, to a kill, shag, marry one which seemed to perhaps require some thinking time (and lots of glugs of wine) before a not very funny but quite clever answer one that pleased the audience.
The evening’s “warm up” Myra DuBois was a totally different style of drag performer and possibly more my old school variety from the days of people like Regina Fong and, of course, early Lily Savage, and (as Del Rio commented) even Dame Edna on a more outrageous day. Guess, what? I had never seen the artist and did not even know she had been on Britain’s Got Talent. The Yorkshire-born drag queen is full of charm and struck up an instant relationship with the audience, with lots of chat, interaction, coming down to meet the punters and also delighting them with plenty of insults at individuals’ expense. Her singing gimmick is genuinely hilarious, which was in her Britain’s Got Talent act audition and the semi final duet with Amanda Holden. Having now watched some clips of BGT I see that the live routine includes some of the same material but the audience loved it all anyway.
So, two very different performers, rooted in the traditions of drag and working surprisingly well in a large concert venue like St David’s Hall and for we old timers bringing back happy memories of the days of just standing in pubs like the Black Cap in Camden, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (presumably when David Walliams graced the place according to his BGT comments) or a gay pride marquee and having a disgracefully fun time.
And, by the way, there were drag queens in the front rows – although not in their working garb. Bianca is so right.