Venue: Birmingham Hippodrome (Patrick Centre)

Production Run: Sunday 19 November

Performance Reviewed: Sunday 19 November

There’s a propensity amongst those only marginally familiar with Logo/VH1’s cult hit RuPaul’s Drag Race to lump its alumni into a singular niche box, often bracketing them in with other ‘reality’ winners in terms of talent and ability (or lack thereof). And whilst it is true that of the 100+ drag queens that the show has brought to public attention there’s more than a fair handful of middling deadwood or vacuous forgettables, there’s real, eclectic talent to be found, too.

Few can match the wry self-awareness and marketing genius of Alaska Thunderf*ck. Good luck finding a live stand-up comedian out there to match the rapid-fire wit and razor-sharp bite of Season 6 winner Bianca Del Rio.

And, as is brilliantly demonstrated by the whirlwind of comic mischief and fabulousness that is The Vaudevillians, Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon proves herself a character actor and concept comedienne par excellence (that’s French!).

Perhaps ironically after leading this with such a Drag Race heavy intro, one of the most admirable and confident things about Vaudevillians is how assuredly it stands on its own two feet and allows its barmy high-concept to shine. There’s no pandering to RuPaul fans here; in fact, bar a passing nod to a fan favourite co-star of Monsoon’s on Season 5 of the show, Drag Race is nowhere to be found here.

It works, too. Monsoon (real name Jerick Hoffer) and co-star Major Scales (a.k.a Richard Andriessen) have conceived of a gleefully off-kilter throwback to vintage vaudeville, centred around the so-absurd-it-works premise of a performing duo from the 1920s being thawed out and returning to the stage after almost a decade of being lost under the Antarctic cap (it seems mixing ice and cocaine acts a cryogenic, essentially)

It’s gloriously daft from the off, carried by the hurricane of madcap energy that is Hoffer/Monsoon’s boozy, erratic wife of the piece, ‘Kitty Witless’ and the musical stylings of Andriessen/Scales’ ‘Dr Dan’, re-imagining even the likes of 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Up’, Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ and LGBQT standard ‘I Will Survive’ into stolen slices of vaudeville funny.

Whilst there’s little here in the way of narrative through-line (aside from some wry jabs and observations on 21st Century Life), that’s kind of the point; this is a show carried on the backs of its wonderful two central performers, and the scattershot approach lends it a fresh, almost improv feel - impressive considering it’s a production that the duo have been performing for several years now, on and off. It also very welcomely throws political correctness to the wind - where else can you sit laughing at gags about Marie Curie’s radiation poisoning one minute and the reluctance of jews to mass-identify the next?

And despite the tone frequently languishing somewhere between lewd and crude, and the aforementioned ‘anything goes’ (song checked!) approach to humour, there’s an unmistakable warmth and bonhomie to the piece. Andriessen is light, buoyant and fun, perfectly channeling the irrepressibly chipper showmen of the era, but it is Hoffer who captivates practically every beat of the show. He’s a superlative character actor, and whilst naturally everything here is dialled up to eleven, Monsoon and her ‘witless’ are genius creations and have the audience eating out of their hands right up to a swirling, glittering finale. 

It isn’t difficult to see why Vaudevillians continues to hold such appeal. It’s utterly unlike anything else you’re likely to see, and is a perfect, high-profile ambassador for this year’s LGBT ‘SHOUT’ festival in the city. No, it isn’t Chekhov, but nor does it profess to be. It is a loud, proud, noisy, hilarious, utterly loopy slice of camp entertainment that at times belies the demanding and brilliantly realised character work it rests upon. And be it watching Monsoon perform a headstand in the lap of a personal trainer, an extended rant on how the British sound to American, or a first look at a sequel to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, you’ll likely find yourself laughing. A lot.

Speaking of sequels, Vaudevillians proved so popular with its audience State-side that a follow-up, The Vaudevillians: Bringing Up Baby was thawed out by the duo back in 2015. Given the fun had here with the original, we can only hope that Monsoon is able to overcome her hatred of the British accent and our condescending mode of address (it’s all in jest, we’re sure!) to bring that over here, too. Maybe even for SHOUT 2018?

Until then, though, keep an eye out for ‘the hottest Vaudeville act ever to be frozen’ coming to a stage (or floor) near you sometime soon.

Hopefully before their next Arctic gig.

RATING - ★★★★

For more information on this year's SHOUT festival, please visit the official site by Clicking Here.