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jaydarcy
30th May 2022

Review: Drag Fest

Theatre Editor Jay Darcy reviews Drag Fest, headlined by Pabllo Vittar, at Bowlers Exhibition Centre
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TLDR
Review: Drag Fest
Pabllo Vittar. Photo: Jay Darcy @ The Mancunion.

Drag Fest 2022 took place on the last weekend of May, with a performance at Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Manchester on the Saturday, and another at Studio 338 in London on the Sunday. The line-up was the same, save for the headliners: the first night was headlined by Brazilian drag queen Pabllo Vittar, whilst the latter was headlined by England’s own Raye – the only non-drag artist on the bill.

We only attended the Manchester day, and we only saw the acts on the main stage (I held on to the railing for day life – I was going to be right at the front for Pabllo, come what may), so I cannot speak on the smaller stage, the London event, or Raye.

The line-up was nice and varied, with very different Queens from a few different countries – mostly singers, but a few lip syncers. Some of them actually lip synced to their own songs – perhaps that is a convention of Drag Race drag, but I’m not sure. Now’s the time I reveal I’ve never seen RuPaul’s Drag Race. I love drag, I just don’t watch reality TV – even though my main job is working BTS in reality TV… I’m one of a kind, okay?

Doors opened at 3PM, and Gothy Kendoll (the first act to be eliminated in series 1 of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK) took to the stage at 3:30. She did a DJ set. One imagines she sang or played ‘Switch’, but we were hovering about in the foyer and trying to find WiFi so I could communicate with Grag Queen’s producer, so we only caught the end of her set. She looked sickening.

The sickeningly sexy DJ Andy Rew – the owner of Klub Kids and Drag Fest, and a booking agent for RuPaul’s Drag Race UK – delivered the opening message.

Then, Victoria Scone took to the stage. It was great to see Scone included, for she is the first cisgender female contestant on any series of the Drag Race franchise. Whilst she placed in the top 2 in the first episode, she was forced to withdraw from the show on the third episode, after partially tearing her anterior cruciate ligament during her top 2 lip sync for the win with eventual winner Krystal Versace. This meant she finished in 10th place.

Scone poked fun at this during her set, singing Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ as video footage of herself from the challenge played on the screen behind her – “Don’t do it,” she told herself. I love self-deprecating humour.

Scone hosted the next part of the set: Pick ‘N’ Mix – which is made up of fellow series 3 queens, Ella Vaday (joint runner-up with Kitty Scott-Klaus), Vanity Milan (4th place), and Choriza May and River Medway (joint 6th place). They each had a solo performance before lip syncing to their fab song ‘B.D.E. (Big Drag Energy)’.

I particularly enjoyed Vaday’s tribute to Shakira (my fave singer) and May’s lip sync to her underrated bop ‘My Pussy Is Like a Peach’ – which really got the crowd going.

Next up was the legendary Jujubee, who was 3rd place on season 2 of Drag Race (US) and season 1 of Drag Race All Stars – and joint runner-up (with Miz Cracker) on its third season – before once again coming 3rd place on Drag Race: UK vs. the World – joint with Baga Chipz! She has the unique distinction of being the only contestant to reach the finale of the competition four times. She sang a couple of songs.

She was followed by Crystal Methyd – joint runner-up (with Gigi Goode) on Drag Race (US) season 12 –  who offered some hilarious lip syncing to Dinvyl’s ‘I Touch Myself’. Methyd then hosted the “UK Talent” part of the show, which featured Wolfy, Anna Phylactic, Saki Yew, Plastiq, Sminty, Deziah, Chyio, and Alexis St Pete. Chyio (a gorgeous trans man) ended his performance by speaking up about the sidelining of drag kings – and even called out RuPaul and Drag Race.

Detox – 4th place on Drag Race season 5 and joint runner-up (with Katya) on All Stars 2 – was a sultry superstar on the Drag Fest stage – and off of it: she strutted her stuff through the audience towards the end of her set, much to the concern of the security. She then hosted “Queens of the North”, which featured Canada’s Drag Race season 1 winner Icesis Couture and season 2’s joint runner-up (with Pythia) Kendall Gender.

Next up was Loris, who was 5th/6th place (with Xochi Mochi) on The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula season 1 and 4-7th place on The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula Resurrection. It was great to see the inclusion of some horror drag.

She was followed by Queen of the Universe season 1 runner-up Ada Vox. Vox blew me away with her killer chops. Her voice is something else. She gave Etta James a run for her money with her sickening cover of ‘At Last’. She has to be one of the best performers of the night.

Miz Cracker – who was 5th place on Drag Race season 10 and joint runner-up on All Stars 5 (as aforementioned, with Jujubee) – hosted the “UK vs the World Talent Show”.

First up was fan favourite Jimbo – 4th place on Canada’s Drag Race and 7th place on UK vs the World – who delivered a terrifying performance of Björk’s ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ (lip syncing). I loved the video footage on the screen behind her, especially the creepy “shh”s. Towards the end of the song, she unzipped her bump and pulled out some kind of cured meat, which she began throwing at the audience. It was not to my taste (pardon the pun), but other audience members seemed to love it.

For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like…

She was followed by her UK vs the World co-star Janey Jacké (5th place) – runner-up on Drag Race Holland – who delivered a ferocious tribute to the most famous “é”: Beyoncé. This rivalled Ella’s tribute to Shakira, earlier on in the show.

The final UK vs the World queen was the delicious Lemon (9th/last place) – 5th place on season 1 of Canada’s Drag Race – who received a roaring response from the audience. She said she knew we wanted her to sing ‘Come Through’, but she would be making a special appearance during Priyanka’s set to perform that absolute bop (Priyanka featuring Lemon).

Miz Cracker, too, performed during the set and event reenacted Tyra Banks’ epic rant on America’s Next Top Model, after mixing her shrieking “stop it” with Diana Ross and the Supremes’ ‘Stop! (In the Name of Love)’.

The final host was Mutha Tucka – “the North East’s original bearded lady”. First up was Grag Queen – the Brazilian beauty who won Queen of the Universe. She was at Drag Fest as part of her What’s Up Lindas Tour. Her sexy set included her hit song ‘Party Everyday’.

Next up was Manchester’s own Divina De Campo – Drag Race UK season 1 runner-up – who I’ve seen several times before (Dancing Bear, All Together Now, and, most recently, Hedwig and the Angry Inch). She was a late addition to the festival – she replaced Sonique. De Campo was as fabulous as ever, ending her set with a cover of RuPaul’s ‘Sissy That Walk’.

She was followed by the wonderful Willam, who was memorably disqualified in season 4 of Drag Race, putting her in between 6th and 7th place (6.5 ain’t bad, baby). Georgina and I previously saw Willam the hilarious Death Drop.

Willam donned a very realistic vagina, complete with a flashing clitoris. It was brilliantly vulgar. She ended her set with a live performance of her iconic song ‘Boy is a Bottom’, a parody of Alicia Keys’ ‘Girl on Fire’, which features Detox and Vicky Vox (Willam’s drag daughter). Detox joined Willam for the performance, to delight from fans.

The penultimate act was the one everyone was waiting for: Priyanka – the winner of Canada’s Drag Race season 1. She looked and sounded incredible. She, of course, ended her set with ‘Come Through’ – where she was joined by Lemon. It was pure brilliance. The crowd went wild.

This was followed by Mutha Tucka and Priyanka’s Canda’s Drag Race co-stars Lemon and Jimbo leading a happy birthday song to Priyanka. The crowd went wilder.

Then, the strangest thing happened: everybody left. I’m not kidding – after the queens left the stage, and it was announced that headliner Pabllo Vittar would be on in ten minutes, almost everybody left. They were not bothered about seeing Vittar – the only drag queen ever to perform at Coachella. The biggest drag queen in the world – with 3 x as many followers as RuPaul – and they don’t even know it.

Fricken gringos.

This speaks to the dismissal of Latin artists and music in the UK. Even mainstream Latin artists, such as Shakira, Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin, are nowhere near as big here as they are pretty much everywhere else. Don’t get me wrong, everybody knows Shakira is an icon, and Enrique Iglesias still sells out arena (£140 a ticket last time – I paid it!), but many don’t see them as “relevant” anymore – even though all three of them have had some of their biggest (Spanish-language) hits in recent years.

It was disappointing to see so many people leave, but there was a positive: I had nobody fighting for my place on the railing, and I could dance freely, without bumping into anybody!

Pabllo was astonishing. Her vocals are vivacious, her dancing is dazzling, and her energy is epic. She looked unbothered by the small number of people in the crowd; she still gave it her all. After all, she still got paid, probably quite a good sum, so I guess she cried all the way to the bank! Whilst the crowd was small, we were devoted to the star, and she gave it right back.

She performed a full set – the festival basically turned into a Pabllo Vittar concert. After all, she is here as part of her I Am Pabllo World Tour.

Vittar brought out fellow beautiful Brazilian bomshell Grag Queen for a performance of her first ever single, ‘Open Bar (Lean On)’ – a Brazilian cover of Major Lazer and DJ Snake’s ‘Lean On’ (feauring MØ). It was wonderful to see two Brazilian queens not only perform together but show each other so much love and support. There was clearly no rivalry. Grag Queen probably looks up to Vittar, and Vittar is probably delighted to see a fellow Brazilian queen killing it.

As aforementioned, I’ve never seen Drag Race. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very familiar with many of the queens, and I absolutely adore drag as an art form – I just don’t watch reality TV! Indeed, I went specifically to see Pabllo Vittar – after all, Latin music is my favourite – and she did not disappoint.

The second best part of the festival had to be seeing Priyanka and Lemon perform ‘Come Through’ – one of my all-time favourite drag songs, up there with Rhea Litre’s under-appreciated cover of Teena Marie’s ‘Lovergirl’. Go give it a listen!

Drag Fest returns to Manchester and London next year.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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