Iconic: A Brief History of Drag (For one night only)
Review by Sarah Tinsley
Glam, glitzy and full of gutsy tunes, Iconic: A Brief History of Drag provides a speculator night out.
Velma Celli takes us on a tour of drag classics from the world of musical theatre and beyond, with some fabulous special guests and a few poignant moments along the way.
In a big top on the Southbank, nestled in the heart of the Underbelly festival, we were taken on a journey full of song and story. Our leading lady is played by Ian Stroughair, a phenomenally talented singer with roots in the West End, who has also appeared in Eastenders. As Velma, he sports impossibly high heels and more than a dash of glitz, with a stunning voice to match. From Rent to Kinky Boots, from Freddie Mercury to Cher, the show takes us through some of the most iconic (hence the name) songs associated with drag.
It’s extraordinarily good fun, with audience members encouraged to clap, click and sing. Whether you know the songs from the musicals or not, there are enough pop songs to keep everyone entertained. What’s also refreshing is that each song is given a slightly different interpretation. Particularly moving was a slow rendition of I Want to Break Free, which allowed us to focus much more on the thoughtful lyrics and vocal flourishes of the wonderful Freddie. Velma accomplishes his vocal range with flourish, hitting some truly spine-chilling notes in the course of the show.
It also digs a little deeper than pure spectacle, with Velma talking to us about how she came to be there in front of us in a bodice and frilly skirt, as well as using influential drag acts to comment on the way the public has come to embrace theses flamboyant performers as part of our culture. There are also references to the history of gay rights, from the decriminalisation in this country to the Stonewall riots in the US, which led to the foundations of Gay Pride as we know it. This lends a gravity to the show, giving a further sense of pride and togetherness as we celebrate the songs that have become associated with freedom of expression and acceptance.
We were also treated to special guests, in the form of the superbly talented Kerry Ellis and Jessie Wallace, who both provided a lyrical counterpoint and depth of harmony to the songs.
There were points in the show that made me laugh so hard I was crying, others where I was singing, clapping, and wishing I could get up and dance. A truly vibrant evening’s experience that will leave you humming along and wanting more.