King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
There’s nothing subtle about Death Drop. This pantomime-style murder-mystery spoof is as big, bold and spangly as a sequinned frock, and there are plenty of them in evidence too. Director Jesse Jones has embraced the ostentatious, which is, let’s be honest, the only option for a show with an international cast of Drag Race stars.
The set-up is familiar: we’re in a spooky manor house on a remote island. It’s 1991 and Lady von Fistenburg (Vinegar Strokes) is hosting a party in honour of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s tenth wedding anniversary. Okay, maybe not all of it is familiar. Blue, Brie and Spread Bottomley (three sisters – or peas, named after cheese – all played by writer Holly Stars) have been engaged to do the catering for an eclectic mix of guests. These are: has-been pop starlet, Shazza (Willam); TV weather girl, Summer Raines (Ra’Jah O’Hara); odious newspaper editor, Morgan Pierce (Karen from Finance); Tory MP, Rich Whiteman (Richard Energy), and film-maker, erm, Phil Maker (Georgia Frost). But – oh no! – there’s a storm! Cue OTT sound and lighting effects from Beth Duke and Jack Weir. The phone lines are down, the electricity’s playing up and a fallen tree has blocked the only bridge to the mainland. And, one by one, the guests begin to die. Someone is clearly intent on murder. But who?
I spend the first ten minutes thinking I’m going to hate this show. I like drag, but the humour here is way beyond broad. They’re establishing the context, so there are lots of 90s references, but it’s all a bit sub-Peter Kay. I mean, just mentioning ‘Anne Diamond’ shouldn’t be enough to get a laugh, should it? I want my comedians to work harder than that: tell me a joke about Fray Bentos; don’t just say the words.
But it soon hits its stride, and I find myself laughing with everybody else. The assembled drag artists strut their stuff with aplomb, and the silliness is disarming. There are a few songs thrown in to good effect (penned by the ever-marvellous Flo and Joan), and these really help the carnival atmosphere. I’m less familiar with the work of drag kings than I am drag queens, but they make perfect sense: like their counterparts, they focus on exaggerated gender and cartoonish caricatures.
Holly Stars is a standout: her deadpan delivery guaranteed to entertain. Richard Energy’s Rich Whiteman is noteworthy too, a study in extravagant characterisation. I like Karen from Finance’s Morgan Pierce; it’s a peach of a part and Karen aces it.
There are a few issues. The second act is baggy, and the payoff isn’t strong enough. Death Drop peters out instead of climaxing, and – in a show as dependent on innuendo as this – that really matters. Nonetheless, this is fun. If your three favourite things are Drag Race, The Play That Goes Wrong and panto, then this is your dream production.