Sound of the Underground @ Royal Court Review
Sound of the Underground is a tongue-in-cheek reality check for consumers of Drag Queen culture. This play-turns-cabaret brings together some of the best queer talent and presents them in their FULL drag selves. I attended with four of my queer friends and each one of us had our favourite that we’d previously seen on the queer London nightlife scene. (Mine is, of course, Sadie Sinner, creator of the Cocoa Butter Club and my unashamed celebrity crush.) It felt revolutionary just having these eight powerhouses at the “Rrrrrroyal” Court.
The show mulls over this a few times inviting timely discussions about the role of the arts, of theatre and, most poignantly, of the audience. This play was half manifesto, half drag concert and with all that fierce talent on stage it was bound to be magnificent. But for some people necessary as Chiyo’s monologue brings the message home. After the lights and the applause, where are you when we endure another hate crime just trying to get home? Why aren’t you intervening? Why don’t we hear you when we aren’t entertaining you?
Travis Alabanza, for those who don’t know, is a prolific writer and in the last five years has amassed quite the fan base. While sat at the bar I watched two silver-haired white women rave about how much they love Travis’s work, and, to my amusement, I found out later, so did my friend. Travis inspires gushing praise and when you look at their achievements on page and stage, you can see why. I’d seen a work-in-progress play I’m Tired of Waiting, Someone Pass me the Duct Tape at Stratford East for their Burn It Down series. For the actors who played the trans girls, Ebun Sodipo and Alexis Meshida, this was their first time on a theatre stage. This is probably my favourite thing about Travis, they are unflinchingly authentic in their dedication to trans arts and awareness and won’t be held back by old fashioned ideas of working with actors who have had the privilege of theatre training. It was the same in Sound of the Underground which platformed performers without formal theatre training who played themselves because fuck the system. These stars are no strangers to an audience however, and entertainment is entertainment. I often think we forget about the roots of theatre as a subversive genre but thankfully Travis is here to remind us.
There’s so much commentary to unpack about capitalism and consumer culture in the first half. After a high-tempo intro with artists descending from exits on all levels, the first scenetakes all the kings and queens from out of their costumes and places them in a cream-coloured modular kitchen that wouldn’t go out of place in a dystopian world. The pace slows down and there are jokes about waiting. The message is clear. We are on their time now. It’s hilarious and suspenseful as each performer enters with their very valid reasons for why they are unapologetically late. They’re planning a heist and their target is RuPaul. This is followed by the highlight of the night, a lip-sync scene where you hear the voices of trans people talking about their thoughts on the most famous drag queen in the West. Here Wet Mess has their moment to shine. The characterisation of the voices and the accuracy of lip sync was seriously impressive. The range of voices about the icon was refreshing to hear, especially as someone who has always enjoyed actual (live) drag but never understood the appeal of the TV show, drag race.
Technically there are some teething issues, and not all of the acts in the second half felt particularly relevant and the transitions felt a bit lazy. Travis missed out on great opportunity of a play-in-a-play. Nonetheless, I’d recommend going coz actually eight superstars under one roof is no easy feat, and, for those who love the night life in theory but can’t be arsed with the late nights, expensive drinks and wayward way homes, this way you really do get the best of both worlds.
By Tasnim Siddiqa Amin.
Follow Tasnim on Instagram: @tasnimsiddiqaamin & WordPress.
Sound of the Underground is currently showing at Royal Court Theatre until Saturday 25th February 2023. To find out more about the production, visit here…