Holly Stars’ Death Drop might sound like your classic murder mystery. It’s not. It’s a full-scale murder mystery starring some of the most celebrated drag performers flown in from all four corners of the world.
We got to sit down with some of its fabulous stars to hear all about how Drag Race prepared them for their roles, adding rhinestones to everything, and avoiding the ancient curse of a group of Drag Queens on a bus!
Ready to star in the back-by-popular-demand new production of the show that reopened the West End after lockdown with a smash-hit run at the historic Garrick Theatre are, from the States, RuPaul’s Drag Race legends, Willam and Ra’Jah O’Hara, the star of the show (‘Well, I think I’m the star of the show!’). And fresh from the Australian version of Drag Race, shown in the UK this year, there’s Karen From Finance, playing against type in her first scripted role since school. And then there’s London’s finest, Vinegar Strokes, reprising the role she originated to rave reviews.
‘If you saw the show the first time, you’d come and get a different experience, different energies and different interpretations. It’s a whole new crew of faces and voices and new interpretations of the characters,’ says Vinegar, who plays Lady Von Fistenberg, ‘the lady of the manor on Tuck Island. She may or may not be the reason why things start getting a bit unhinged, a bit crazy. But she’s a very rich, wealthy, gorgeous woman. I’m absolutely playing myself…’ In case you were wondering.
Vinegar is excited about this new touring version because it gives her ‘new things to play with. Everyone’s amazing, everyone’s gorgeous, everyone’s getting their characters together and we’ve all been drunk together already.’ As for her look, ‘I just told them I wanted more rhinestones and more camp… and they said, “We can accommodate those requests”!
It’s a first acting role for Karen From Finance, ‘well, the first time working off a script since Les Misérables in Year 8, twenty years ago. I was the understudy for Gavroche but he never got sick so I like to say I was his understudy but I was just in the ensemble.’ And it’s a challenging role, the one in Death Drop (and yes, there are real death drops – where drag queens collapse backwards as if they’ve been shot, legs akimbo – and plenty of them).
‘It’s exciting playing someone mean for a change,’ says Karen, whose regular persona, as Drag Race fans will know, is ‘everyone’s favourite auntie, the loveable, cuddly, committed single woman who works in finance. This time I’m Ms. Morgan Piers, obviously named after Piers Morgan but in real life she’s based on the monster that is Rebekah Brooks…’ You may remember her as the News of the World executive questioned by MPs over phone hacking. ‘I’ve just been reading up on her and my jaw is constantly smacking the floor! Quite a woman! There’s definitely a bit of a Cruella vibe going on with Morgan Piers.’
Luckily for Karen From Finance, she already has the executive look down. ‘Karen already exists in the corporate world but we’ve elevated her from bottom of department to CEO,’ she says… of herself. So, to clarify, is this still Karen From Finance or someone playing a completely new role? ‘Yes,’ says Karen. ‘It’s Karen From Finance playing a completely new role.’ Hopefully that clears things up.
Ra’Jah O’Hara from RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, who Willam reckons is the queen of the death drop, plays meteorologist Summer Raines, complete with Southern drawl (well, she does live in Texas) and reckons that ‘with all the challenges we had to do on RuPaul’s Drag Race, that was the warm-up and the prep course for the reality that I’m now in. Doing a script!’ The look was put together by wardrobe, ‘but I did get to add a little bit of my signature, which is purple,’ but the make-up is all Ra’Jah ‘because nobody can make me as beautiful as I can make me, OK?’
As for Willam, who plays Shazza - ‘I throw all the shade!’ - this is her second crack at Death Drop with all the same fantastic costumes from the original though she does insist that she has washed them. ‘I don’t give my look up to anyone!’ she says, shocked at the very idea. She reckons, by the way, due to the copious death drops required of her first time round, ‘I was in the best shape of my life when it ended,’ so she’s looking forward to getting back on it, especially as she remembers the whole script from first time round.
Willam reckons that the international cast will get on like a house on fire as ‘we have the same three jokes in all the countries for all the drag queens.’ ‘It’s quite remarkable that with a lot of people I’ve never met, how intensively we’ve all come together,’ chips in Karen, ‘but then after the last year or so, we’re bonding over the fact that we can at last get on a stage together.’
And that’s not to forget the drag kings, two of them, who are part of the glittering cast. ‘It’s all the same,’ says Willam of the difference between the kings and the queens. ‘It’s just drag. They glue hair to their faces, we glue hair to our heads.’
And Willam doesn’t accept that the Australian drag queens are bitchier than the US or UK versions and never mind what anyone said about the Australian Drag Race episodes. ‘Australians in general are more honest than most people and have less time for artifice and say what they think, which is quite nice,’ says Willam, ‘and that translates into the drag too, for sure. But I rarely meet a drag queen who holds her tongue. Besides, I’ve worked with Karen for years in Australia. She’s funny.’
As for the actual touring side of the Death Drop tour – and Willam’s been to every town on the list except for Crewe and Southend - she forgot to ask how it would work. ‘But hopefully there’s someone to help us with our bags because, bitch, we got a lot of wigs!
The one thing she does know, and never mind what you think you might have learned from The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, is that taking a tour bus to accommodate the whole cast would be a risky business: ‘If you get a bus or any vehicle and put a bunch of drag queens on it, it will eventually break down,’ she says, clearly some ancient curse. ‘We have to travel alone or in pairs, two by two. Like Noah’s Ark.’
As they head off, all of them admit to nerves, ‘But that just means you really care about what you’re doing,’ says Ra’Jah. And finally, the big question: these may be the most famous drag queens in the business but, how to put this? Can they act?
‘I can act!’ says Ra’Jah, astonished at such a question. ‘I can also act the fool.’
Death Drop sashays into The King's Theatre this November - get tickets here.