Ian Stroughair delivers an hour of avante guarde post modern drag, with a voice so powerful he should require a license to operate it. He performs as drag act Velma Celli, strutting into the theatre singing a sultry rendition of Sugar Daddy from the musical Hedwig. With a nod to his former life as a West End ensemble regular before breaking into the world of drag, we are then treated to a shunt through history as Stroughair booms out his own bespoke renditions of some of the greats.
An hour of queer celebration
The history we experience is Stroughair’s history, and his evolution into the great icon we see before us. He has the most powerful, compelling voice I’ve ever heard – and this, combined with his edgy mash up of silver sparkly dress, short blonde hair and extravagant make-up – gives me the distinct impression that Stroughair personificates an evolution into the next phase of drag. As well as a fantastically elegant version of The Sex is in the Heel from Kinky Boots, there are also tributes to some of the great icons of drag thrown in – a mash-up of Queen’s I Want to Break Free with Under Pressure (with Bowie), and RuPaul’s Sissy That Walk.
Perhaps what I enjoyed most about the performance – apart from Stroughair’s enviably dynamic voice – were the snippets of history which had combined to create the wondrous Velma Celli. Spine tingling moments included him recollecting the moment in 1979 when David Bowie caused mayhem by draping his arm round a male bandmate, "at a time when Elton and Freddie were still in the closet". The air is still as Stroughair reads a message from a Bowie fan at that time, wondering how many outcasts’ lives were saved because he turned shame into a celebration. Another poignant moment was his recollection of visiting the Stonewall Inn, scene of the infamous Stonewall Riots which changed history for LGBT people in 1969 and sparked the growth of the LGBT rights movement. Stroughair powerfully narrates the story of Marsha P Johnson, the drag queen who was the first person to stand against the police on the first night of the riots – which transcended into a passionate, powerful performance of I Am What I Am. And then, for the very first time at the Fringe, I witnessed a standing ovation and an audience screaming "one more song". To which Stroughair, of course, acquiesced.
Stroughair's comedic talent was showcased throughout, peppered with seductive audience interaction and a cheeky sense of fun. One can tell that Stroughair adores performing to his adoring public, and he doesn’t take this for granted. Supported by a wonderfully skilled live band and two amazing backing singers, this is an hour of queer celebration – a joyous ode to the greats that have come before him, and the promise of so much more to come from a true Icon of Drag.