Denim, a drag Haus come girl band, are on tour and they’ve finally reached Wembley Arena (actually, the Belly Laugh at Underbelly). The queens – Glamrou, Crystal, Shirley, Elektra and Aphrodite – all have their own perfectly crafted identity and oversee a night of controlled chaos, mimicking girl-group conventions with fake fan mail, group numbers and the faux profundity of acoustic covers and political activism.
This Spice Girls-esque band is glamorous and intelligent, performing drag tropes in entirely new and creative ways
The show opens with a Lady Gaga cover, which has the audience singing along immediately, and in the following hour the group cover almost everything in the ‘drag songbook’, with references from Whitney Houston to Chicago, but perfectly subverted to be unlike any drag performance you may have seen before. Not only do the queens play with our preconceptions of a girl group, but also of what a drag show should be, not just performing a parody of certain gender expectations but playing with clichés of what drag can be – they are ‘every woman’ but also maintain the idea that gender is a construct. This show is a prime example of contemporary drag, being more concerned with gender expression and showcasing true performance talent rather than ‘serving face’. Especial shout outs go to Glamrou for stand-up that wouldn’t seem out of place in a comedy club, and Crystal, who delivered hypnotically beautiful vocals. Each performance, however, left the audience transfixed and it’s fair to say each queen has showmanship abound.
The absurdity of the World Tour conceit works well as the queens stagger around the small Belly Laugh stage. This summarises the success of the show – it is so self-aware, being clever and stupid in equal measure. While the fallacy of performing at Wembley is ridiculous, the group deliver the show with a level of such intensity to almost fool the audience and it’s telling that their few original songs do not sound out of place with the rest of the LGBTQ anthems they cover.
The only moments where the audience were snapped out of their reverie were some slightly uncomfortable changeovers between the queens that weren’t explained, and an aerobics workout parody that, while amusing, lost the audience at times, perhaps due to an imbalance with the tech being too loud over the performer.
Despite this, Denim does what a great drag should do: it subverts expectations. This Spice Girls-esque band is glamorous and intelligent, performing drag tropes in entirely new and creative ways, delivering show-stopping numbers and witty one liners again and again.