Review: The Vaudevillians @ Exeter Northcott Theatre

Charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent – Jinkx Monsoon brings these very qualities, all which helped her claim the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar in 2013, to her outstandingly camp and funny performance in The Vaudevillians. It tells the story of Kitty Witless and her husband, Dr Dan von Dandy, a couple from the 1920s, who have been frozen alive for almost a century before finally returning to perform their amazing repertoire of songs. However, they quickly realise that many of their songs have been plagiarised by modern pop artists and have lost their original meaning! So, they are back to perform to the world the songs as were originally intended.

The Vaudevillians Soho Theatre 2

With songs such as ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’, originally being about the invention of the electric iron, and ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’, being about domestic abuse, the couple’s wonderfully silly and 20s’ style performances do not overshadow the genuine musical talent they possess: Jinkx’ almost operatic feminine tones blended marvellously with Major Scales’ voice, while his piano skills, which may be overlooked, were remarkable. Major was brilliant in that he was able to let Jinkx shine whilst still proving hilarious and, in his solo piece, showing off his talent and comedic skills. With each song, Jinkx incorporates a different dance move that became increasingly more impressive. From a slow slide into the splits, she progressed to a full-blown headstand in the lap of an unsuspecting audience member. Her participation with the audience testified to her ability to improvise, with hilarious results. Her interactions with the theatre-goers both on the stage and within the crowd often led to the funniest moments – for example, the perfect coincidence of her singing “goodbye” at the exact time somebody was leaving their seat made for a delightful encounter. She also demonstrated her improvisation when she accidentally mispronounced a word, claiming this was the way it was said in the 20s, and promising to try to adjust to our modern ways.

The dialogue between Jinkx and Major was perfectly balanced with the musical elements, and it was a testament to their humour and comedy that the audience was hardly ever not laughing for 80 minutes straight. While some running jokes, such as the Doctor’s inability to control his wife’s outrageous flirting with members of the audience, never lost their stamina, some jokes however seemed to dry out before the end. The continuous referral to their drug use started out as comic, but the more it was repeated the more it felt like a lazy back-up on which they relied too often. Additionally, the tone shift towards the end of the performance didn’t seem to fit the comic, cabaret mould; Jinkx’ monologue about the power that can be found in self-expression and pride in oneself felt unnecessary. This message, whilst important, did not need to be so obviously stated, for the liberating and refreshing nature of the play made this message completely palpable. It especially didn’t fit with other moments in the play that simultaneously referred to and made parodies of modern political and social issues. The most notable of these moments would be Jinkx’ repetition of the word “feminism”, each time her soft voice becoming deeper and gravellier until she was growling. This clear satire of negative stereotypes around certain areas of feminism seemed to fit with the overall mocking attitudes of the play.

The Vaudevillians Soho Theatre

These unnecessary additions were minute however, and did not distract from the perfection of the humour and performance. Jinkx completely shined and showed that, though she owes her celebrity to her performance on season five of RuPaul’s Drag Race, she is so much more than this. She is genuinely funny and talented in her own right. The one reference to the wider world of drag and to the show was completely splendid. During the couple’s rendition of ‘I Will Survive’ (an iconic song to which they do complete justice), there is a dramatic pause mid-song, which Jinkx breaks with a tongue pop. The Drag Race fans in the audience go wild. The tongue pop is a staple characteristic of another iconised drag queen from Jinkx’ season, Alyssa Edwards; this subtle nod to fans of the show and the world of drag was brilliantly timed and enough to place the play in drag culture without relying on Jinkx’ connection to the TV series to be successful.

Jinkx and Major captivated the audience with both their witty dialogue and hilarious and talented musical renditions. Their off-the-cuff banter with each other and the audience provided the impromptu humour so expected from such talented and entertaining performers.

– by Claudia George

*Images courtesy of Exeter Northcott Theatre and Soho Theatre.

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