Death Drop: In conversation with LoUis CYfer
By Jay Darcy
Death Drop: Back in the Habit (the standalone sequel to the award-winning Death Drop) is coming to the end of its UK tour, but we could not let that happen without interviewing the star of the show: drag king LoUis CYfer.
LoUis got into drag over a decade ago, while studying a Masters in Contemporary Theatre and Performance.
“You have to remember this is a time before we had any lexicon around queerness. We didn’t even say the word queer, and if we did, it wasn’t in a positive way. There was no non-binary; trans wasn’t something that was really discussed. And I was definitely feeling like I was struggling with my identity, so used my performative skills as an actor and an artist to create a show where I played a drag persona.”
I asked LoUis about the inspiration for his drag persona. He told me, “Your drag persona is sort of a culmination of the things that make up you, so I guess there’s bits of Johnny Depp and Robin Williams, and Robbie Williams. I thought Robbie Williams was a real icon back in the day, his energy on the stage and the way he entertained everyone, even though his singing wasn’t the best, he was such an inspiring performer for me – and then we found out he did loads of coke and that broke my heart.”
While LoUis is inspired by popular culture, he also based his persona on “your average working-class bloke,” especially as he is from Sheffield, Yorkshire. “So, it’s a bit of all those blokes added together minus the toxic masculinity,” he said succinctly.
Death Drop has enjoyed unprecedented success. While there is an abundance of drag shows, drag plays are not so common, and Death Drop boldly premiered on the West End. It has since enjoyed two West End revivals, a UK tour, and a sequel tour.
However, LoUis was not at all surprised by the success of the play. “It’s as good as any play,” he said. He was also very excited to work with TuckShop and Holly Stars.
Death Drop was one of the first shows to premiere during the pandemic. All of the regulations made rehearsing difficult, yet the cast persevered.
“The whole world is going to shit, and we’re trying to put a play on – with an all-drag cast. When things are bad, you go into your own little mode, and ours was, “We must entertain the people”. So, yeah, it’s been very successful and will continue to do so – I think it’s built its own franchise now.”
While Back in the Habit is a sequel to Death Drop, it is a new story with new characters – and even a new writer (sadly, no Stars). However, LoUis told us that it has got some of the same tropes as, and Easter eggs from, the first play (even a song from the first play). But the play also has Easter eggs from famous horror movies: “It’s like a horror movie bingo”.
Furthermore, there are some similarities between his two characters – especially because both are rich, white men.
“For me, they are the same person… Back in the Habit is a prequel for ‘rich white man’ going into politics – first he was into religion!”
However, each play parodies a different genre. While Death Drop was very much an Agatha Christie murder mystery, the sequel is “slasher movie mixed with Sound of Music. It’s more movie-oriented”.
We then shifted gears and talked specifically about drag kings. I told LoUis that at Drag Fest 2022 in Manchester, a fellow drag king ended his performance with a small but passionate speech about the hardships faced by drag kings – and he specifically called out Drag Race.
LoUis admitted that he is often asked why drag kings are not as popular as drag queens, and proceeded to deliver a passionate speech of his own, albeit from a different point of view.
“There comes a point where, if you see a problem, like they’re not letting you on Drag Race… It’s very hard to choose my words carefully for this question because I have a very different approach to the struggle of drag kings. Yes, there are some limitations but that just is, for me, that is showing you the light of where it is that you need to put the most effort in. So, it’s not okay to just sit back and like, ‘Oh, we’re so badly done to, oh, Drag Race this and la la la’. Make yourself an act that they couldn’t ignore, and I’m not just talking about Drag Race, I’m talking about kings in general.”
He warns performers to think wisely about what they say onstage and reveal to their audiences.
“You also need to be careful about discussing your hardships on the stage because it can look like you’re just sort of trauma pouring your way through your art when I think that the art should work for itself. I don’t think people need a passionate speech about the hardships faced by others; I think what they need is entertaining, and I think that is our job, our job is to entertain, not to use our platform to say how underprivileged we are, because we’re not underprivileged as drag kings – we’re getting onstage, and some get paid more than others and some get paid less but I think it’s down to you and utilising your networks, and opportunities that are made available to you to make sure that there’s no way that you can go unnoticed.”
LoUis then spoke eloquently about the future of drag kings and the possibility that they might permeate the mainstream, like their female counterparts.
“Opportunities and representation for drag kings is on the rise – you can say that about anything. You can say that anything is on the rise. How many times, every year, I hear, ‘Oh, it’s year of the drag king’. Not every year is year of the drag king; it’s just that mainstream media are opening up a bit more. So, there are plenty of opportunities and representation for drag kings.”
“Is it in the mainstream media light? No. Is that gonna change? Probably, if they realise that they can make money off it. But, to do that, they’re gonna have to have somebody who is at the forefront, leading that pathway, aren’t they? Like they always do. ‘Cause they’re not gonna take an opportunity on an underdog; they’re gonna wanna know it’s safe before they invest in something ’cause that is just the way the industry works. It’s shit but there will eventually be someone that goes, ‘Hey, let’s do this with drag kings,’ which is inevitable ’cause they’re the underdogs.”
We then went on to talk about the rise in anti-drag sentiments in the UK, a manufactured culture war issue that originated in the USA (where numerous drag bans have taken place), and has now invaded the 51st State.
LoUis puts this down to people’s lack of education and understanding. He also believes it is a reflection of the lives they live. “Happy people don’t go out shouting at drag queens for reading stories to kids, do they? So, I think it says more about the society as a whole and the current government that we’re living under that instead of focusing on actual policies that need putting through, and the poverty line, and tackling the big industry companies, we’re pointing at a load of drag queens. It’s just an easy target, isn’t it? Because we’re not part of a majority; we’re part of a fringe area of LGBTQ culture, and whenever anything goes on, it’s always the gays and queers they come for first.
However, LoUis is not worried about the future of drag in the UK: “By doing this to us, you’re empowering us. The people that don’t stand at the sidelines going, “Oh, woe is me, woe is me, somebody to pity me,” the Queens and Kings and Things, and all the other queer performers and members of the community – you are just energising them by pushing them back. So, actually, sometimes it’s a good thing because if we didn’t have people pushing against queers in the first place, we wouldn’t even have any rights, and those rights were brought to us by drag artists, weren’t they, majorly? So, do your worst, I say!”
I decided to end on a happier note by asking LoUis what’s next.
LoUis revealed that he is going over to Georgia to film a sci-fi. Recently, he did some filming for a huge Netflix project which will be out next year. He is also about to start working with Middle Child Theatre and Milk Presents on Modest, a drag king play about Elizabeth Thompson, which is going to tour the UK.
“And I’m having a holiday,” LoUis laughed. “I’m gonna go on holiday the second we finish this tour, and then I’m going to be spending the rest of the year working with KlubKids and Victoria Scone [his Back in the Habit co-star]; we’re going to be going up to Edinburgh Fringe, Victoria’s going to be bringing some fantastic show there so make sure that you all come to see us. We’re going to be doing some…” LoUis then stopped himself.
“Well, you’ll have to keep your eyes out actually; I’m not gonna give too much away, but keep an eye on our socials and you’ll find out, won’t you?”
He then added, “And if you wanna add me handle, I’d really appreciate that, it’s @mxlouiscyfer. Oh, and if you wanna mention that I’ll be bringing my immersive theatre show, The Last Resort, to Manchester in September, I won’t say no to that.”
The comedy continued right until the end: “Right, I hope this is okay for you and I hope you’ve had an interesting 12 minutes listening to me moan and not moan. Have a lovely day, take care, turrah love!”
It was the most interesting 12 minutes of my life!
Death Drop: Back in the Habit runs at Manchester Opera House until March 12 before transferring to The Alexandra, Birmingham for the final stop of its UK tour. You haven’t got long left to catch this show so be prepared to kill for a ticket!