Photo by: Scott Rylander Photo by: Scott Rylander

Review: Iconic at Underbelly

Written for Everything Theatre

When you venture into the Underbelly, you can usually be sure of one thing: it’s not going to be a boring evening. Playing here for one night only, Iconic: A Brief History of Drag is no exception to that rule. Ian Stroughair, in his alter ego of the spectacular Velma Celli, takes the audience on a whirlwind tour around some of the most recognisable moments in the history of drag. From Freddie Mercury’s black leather skirt and fishnet stockings in I Want to Break Free to Rocky Horror’s Doctor Frank N. Furter, Iconic features powerful vocal performances, a lot of cheeky fun, and a couple of surprisingly moving moments. Oh, and audience participation of course.

From her entrance into the Spiegeltent right down to the very last bow, Velma has the audience wrapped around her little finger. Never before have I been part of a crowd that responded quite so enthusiastically to being told to ‘click along, you lazy bitches’. Velma is joined on stage by special guests Kerry Ellis and Jessie Wallace, both making an appearance in classy men’s wear and a stick on moustache. Each of the ladies join Velma for a duet, Ellis on I’ll Cover You from Rent and Wallace for David Bowie’s Starman.

They are two gorgeous performances, although Velma certainly doesn’t need the added star power to command our attention. With her impressive vocal range and compelling stage presence, each song is a delight. A particular highlight is the pop star-impersonation-mega mix, featuring the likes of Anastacia, Tina Turner and an uncannily spot-on Shakira. Recurring attempts to get the audience to do a sort of surround sound whisper every time Velma whips out her ‘Tranny Bible’ are slightly less successful, although I’m proud to say we had improved a lot by the end of the evening.

All the hilarity aside, there are some genuinely touching moments to the show as well, like Velma’s explanation of the Stonewall riots (‘for the not gays in the audience’) or her tribute to David Bowie. An actual history of drag this show is not; at a good 75 minutes it’s too short for that, and its arrangement too haphazard. But as an entertaining night out, it’s a resounding success.

This show has now completed its run at Underbelly