Yummy takes on subversive drag differently | Photo: Yummy
Alternative drag is in a weird place these days.
Drag, itself, has never been more popular, and not just Drag Race. Audiences, therefore, are becoming far more discerning and picky over what they want to see.
So when it comes to shock tactics – a lot of queens go for the gross out. Some piss, masturbate or even fist someone on stage.
The problem is: that’s now been done a thousand times so is it really subversive any more?
Yummy at the Underbelly on the London South Bank
That’s what Valerie Hex, real name James Welsby, thinks about the current drag scene.
They are the director of Yummy, an international drag and cabaret show that has a residency at the Underbelly on the London South Bank.
This group of seven artists (majority from Australia) are performing political progressive drag, all across the river from the Houses of Parliament. Talking gender politics, in a world where trans people are vilified in the mainstream press, has never been more punk rock.
‘Audiences expect a lot,’ Welsby tells Gay Star News. ‘That also forms the audience’s taste.
‘Audiences who are very exposed to the drag scene, looking for alternative drag, will find that. But pissing on the audience is not always the most subversive thing to do – it’s been done many times before.’
Welsby believes, in a nutshell, Australia brings together the two typical scenes of the USA and the UK together. During the show, pageantry from the States is pieced together with satire and subversion from Britain.
What is the drag show like?
Yummy, in 60 minutes, shows you nothing but talent. Karen from Finance (the drag queen popularized by Trixie and Katya for having the ‘best drag name ever’) hosts. The six other acts then introduce themselves in solo numbers.
There are cis women and non-binary performers as part of the line-up.
Each performance artist, whatever they’re doing from hula hooping to spectacular dancing to eerie acapella, are all working at an A-level standard. But each performance all works together.
Yummy explores, questions and embraces gender. This show boils it all down to diverse bodies, costumes and talent.
So while they could be shocking, they’re not going for the gross-out. Welsby believes there’s a very valid reason to pitch Yummy as a 15+ show.
‘There’s a big difference between what you can get away with at a 15+ show and an 18+ show,’ they said.
‘Vulnerable youth should be invited to see our fabulousness, our sense of ensemble, our sense of joy.
‘Last night we had a teenager crying after the show saying it was the most liberating thing she’d ever seen. She’s coming back tonight.’
A different kind of way of talking about politics
Some might think alternative drag is literally anything other than what’s shown on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and that’s not quite true either. Cis women and non-binary and trans people have always been a part of drag, going all the way back to Marsha P Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Stormé DeLarverie at Stonewall and beyond.
Near the end of the show, Karen from Finance has a joke. She asks if the audience now want to hear a 16-and-a-half minute spoken word piece on gender politics.
‘People always yell no,’ Welsby said. ‘It’s funny because they’ve just seen a 60 minute show about gender politics and they might not have realized that.’
Welsby is very proud the show is ‘very political but it’s not didactic’.
‘It’s about having varied voices, some proudly in between genders, and traditional drag in the show,’ they said. ‘Drag is unlimited and I hope audiences find some freedom in that. I hope they think they can find their own version of that in their own lives.’
Yummy’s final show at the Underbelly is on 28 July. Tickets available here.
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