It’s a Drag Race fan’s dream come true: in RuPaul’s Drag Race: Battle of the Seasons (BOTS), stars of the hugely popular reality show descended upon the Clapham Grand for a special evening of what RuPaul would call “eleganza extravaganza”.
This is an epic show. It is not every day that London town gets a visit from eight queens across five seasons of the hit TV show all on the same stage. This year’s Condragulations Tour is the biggest of its kind and the very first time that this live outing has come to the UK. Hosted by longtime Drag Race judge Michelle Visage, the London show includes season winners and fan favourites including Sharon Needles, Bianca del Rio and Alaska Thunderfuck.
In a recent interview, Visage comments that BOTS is “not just a bar drag queen show” but, rather, a two hour-long theatre production. Indeed the show offers many theatrical delights. Ivy Winters pulls out all the stops demonstrating quick change, juggling and stilt-walking while queen of the night Sharon Needles makes her entrance in a coffin. There’s no shortage of stunning conceptual costumes such as Manila Luzon’s popcorn dress and Pandora Boxx’s Tardis number.
Ensemble pieces are a definite highlight of the evening, especially a live version of Snatch Game, a much-loved Blanketty Blank-style challenge where the queens are asked to give their best celebrity impersonation. It is a hilarious mindfuck which sees Bianca do her own take on Judge Judy and Alaska is a very convincing Laganja Estranja, a Season 5 contestant known for her dramatic outbursts. A rendition of You Gotta Get a Gimmick from Gypsy is also a delightful surprise. Jinkx Monsoon and Visage showcased their musical finesse and brought their own personal touches to this classic striptease number.
Having checked out some of the RPDR queens performing at far smaller venues (for example, Shangela’s appearance at the recently closed Black Cap), it is obvious that the experience of seeing them at a 1250-person capacity venue such as the Clapham Grand is a world away from entertaining a crowd of 200 in a Camden pub. All of the queens have loveable personalities and incredible costumes, but some of their solo acts would be far more powerful in a more intimate space.
Because the line-up varies at different cities, it can be hard to accommodate the queens’ diverse performance styles to create a consistently entertaining two-hour show. That leads to uneven patches and awkward juxtapositions: an invigorating performance by Adore Delano of her latest single is followed by a less well received much slower number by Monsoon. At times, it feels as if there is too much padding in the show, and we’re not talking about the kind found on a drag queen’s body.
As a die-hard fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I enjoyed the show immensely but left the venue with mixed feelings, wondering whether a fully staged show is the best way to present drag. There is certainly charm in seeing a stellar line-up of drag superstars perform together in such a beautifully large venue. But what several drag characteristics like its bellicose nature and the interaction between performer and audience are hard to achieve in a bigger venue. In trying to appeal to everyone, there are a few occasions when BOTS finds itself stuck between high-camp theatre and confrontational drag.
Having said that, this is a unique opportunity for any fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race who would not want to miss out on this cornucopia of not one, not two, but eight of the biggest drag superstars today.
Rupaul’s Drag Race: Battle of the Seasons Condragulations Tour 2015. The Clapham Grand, 21-25 St John’s Hill Clapham Junction, London SW11 1TT http://www.claphamgrand.