American drag superstar Sharon Needles and her PG13 tour is turning UK venues into “haunted houses”. Candace Chan was at Brighton’s Club Revenge to witness the spooky goings-on.

Queen of the dark Sharon Needles descended on Brighton as part of her PG13 tour.

Queen of the dark Sharon Needles descended on Brighton as part of her PG13 tour.

As part of her global PG13 tour, American drag superstar Sharon Needles descended on one of Brighton’s finer gay venues, Club Revenge. The “spooktacular” night was hosted by the magnificent Joe Black, cabaret singer-songwriter and self-proclaimed clown who recently finished his own tour. Black starts the show with a bang with Oogie Boogie’s Song from Tim Burton’s classic The Nightmare before Christmas. This aptly chosen song transports the audience from a seaside town to Halloween Central, preparing them for the ghoulish acts that are to come.

Local lasses The House of Grand Parade are on hand to support Sharon Needles with great acts inspired by punk rockers, femme fatales and classic horror films. The troupe pushes the boat out on this occasion with many costume and wig changes as well as some blood spitting, perhaps in homage to Sharon Needles’s infamous post-Rupocalyptic outfit from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 4.

Despite the numerous high calibre performances, Ruby Wednesday‘s rendition of Katy Perry’s E.T still manages to stand out. The winner of Trannyshack Academy 2014, Ruby is famous for her alternative performance that destabilises the boundaries of drag. Her lip sync is done to perfection with an explosive energy, powered by every twist of her face and every clench of her fist. Donning a voluminous black wig and a black outfit, Ruby slowly sheds her layers to reveal her blue hair and androgynous body, proving that she is not just a female impersonator but a punk rock rebel with so much more to give.

Perhaps surprisingly, the performance is not all about lip-syncing to songs but also to dialogues and mash-ups. Rococo Chanel and Lydia L’Scabies, the other two-thirds of the House of Grand Parade, did a number together as the iconic Grady twins from classic horror flick The Shining. Their tight lip syncing and matching outfits immerse the audience in Kubrick’s cinema world filled with blood-stained nightmares. While their performance earns them a positive response, not all lip syncing is not as successful as seen elsewhere in the show.

The Grand Parade girls would be a tough act for anyone to follow tonight and Yeast London Cabaret’s Rodent DeCay decides from the off to challenge the audience with a Lady Macbeth–inspired performance. Her act begins with a series of fragmented speeches quoting Shakespeare and performance theories, with each transition marked by a deafening beep. The audience reaction is brutally honest: the booing starts two minutes into DeCay’s act with some telling her to “aashay away”.

Though obviously not loved by all, the literary influence and the emphasis on speeches are a refreshing deviation from the upbeat and entertainment-driven drag performances. Interestingly, on the day after this show, Rodent DeCay was crowned Miss Sink the Pink, winner of East London’s alternative drag pageant. DeCay’s success and failure is a curious case illustrating that within drag and the cabaret world in general there is always an audience for what may seem the most divisive of performances.

Six acts and an hour later, it is finally time for the “spooktacular” Sharon Needles to make her appearance. Going on tour for her dance chart topping album PG13, the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 4 stunned the crowd with her studded moto bodysuit, paired with an oversized Ouija necklace and a Marilyn blonde lace front. Wishing the audience a Happy Halloween, she tears the club down with her dance anthem This Club is a Haunted House. Moving on, she introduces every song with a backstory. Dead Girls Never Say No is dedicated to the female presence in a club scene dominated by gay men while Call me on the Ouija Board is about two people who cannot be together, referencing Needles’ split with long-term partner Alaska Thunderfuck and their life on the road after they became reality stars.

Needles goes on to pay tribute to the cult icons who have influenced her style with her Pennsylvanian rendition of Sweet Transvestite from musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She closes the show with a cover of American industrial band Ministry’s (Every Day Is) Halloween, asking the world to see that we’re all the same and everyone should be able to “live a life for me”. It is a short set which left the audience asking for more, but the song was a fitting conclusion to a night that celebrates Halloween and champions all creatures of the night.

Fans of RPDR would know that Sharon Needles is not known for her ability to sing and dance but her unique brand of drag. There is undeniably a unique charisma to this queen both as a performer and a person. She is an excellent performer who owns the stage with a presence which varies from powerful and graceful through to comedic throughout the night. In between numbers, she is able to entertain and even challenge the audience with her funny remarks interspersed with serious messages. Starting off with jokes on burning nostrils and plastic surgery, Needles moves on to salute the diverse presence in the club from ladies, drag queens, dykes to the “punk rock transgressive bloodbath” presented by the supporting queens.

A self-described “stupid genius, reviled sweetheart and PBR princess”, Sharon Needles does not ask to be taken seriously but she has certainly inspired a generation of freaks and weirdos to be proud of themselves. Sharon Needles: PG13 tour was truly a visual treat presented by the finest of alternative drag from both sides of the Atlantic. It was an opportunity for the audience to release their inner freaks, and to celebrate the movement that is slowly changing the landscape of drag.

Powder Room Presents: Sharon Needles PG13 Tour, Club Revenge, 32-34 Old Steine, Brighton BN1 1EL

Images: Club Revenge