V is for Velour: Sasha Velour at Tunnel

It’s 7pm on Sunday evening but I’m not perusing Netflix in my dressing gown, I’m in Tunnel (formerly Mission 2) surrounded by Sasha Velour’s adoring fans. We are all ready for her immaculate brand of lip syncing, wit and high concept drag. After all, this is a queen who cites Nosferatu and Frida Kahlo as inspiration for her eyebrows. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sasha’s drag, or *that* rose petal moment, she is known for her avant-garde style and refusal to shy away from incisive political commentary.

‘Drag is all about choice and that is why it does not work well with conservatism’, she declares, engaging with the palpable force resounding from the audience. The resulting frenzy culminates in an audience-led chant of ‘F*** Theresa May’, as Sasha’s support Olive d’Nightlife aptly adds ‘the one thing they cannot keep quiet is the queers.’

Sasha commands the stage but she bathes in the audience’s adulation for only three sets lasting about ten minutes each. The rest of the three-hour set consists of other queens and her adoring public hint at being short-changed. I speak to a couple who have travelled from Lithuania who mention in an aside that at the more commercial end of drag the star acts can get away with leaving their audience wanting (a lot) more.

Of course, this is to be expected as drag breaks into the mainstream in the UK. Just a few days ago, drag sister Courtney Act beat off a host of more likely candidates to win the usually sclerotic popularity show Celebrity Big Brother. But Sasha seems too much of a dissenter to crumble under this more mercenary wing of drag. As she parades across the stage in Marlene Dietrich mimicry, combining leopard bodysuits and opulent gowns with her bald head and gleeful grin, I think ‘Alternative drag is dead? Long live the queen.’

Phoebe Thompson

(Image courtesy of Wilson Models Photography)