Wednesday night of Freshers’ Week saw Sussex campus’ East Slope Bar come alive with glitter, rainbows, cheesy pop tunes and the university’s very own DragSoc. The five-piece society committee and drag family, Haunted Haus, put on a fantastic night complete with ensemble performance, four individual mini-shows and DJ set by AJ Hutchinson’s hilarious Robert from Finance.
When I showed up at about 8pm, the bar was already packed with excitable students, flamboyantly dressed and sipping DragSoc’s speciality cocktails: Bianco del Rio, The Milk and Drop Dead Gorgeous. After a warm welcome from Robert from Finance, tables were cleared, the music went up and the other artists emerged onto the dancefloor, beckoning audience members on with them. There was some reluctance at first, but with some playful encouragement on behalf of the artists and a medley of cheese-core pop anthems, gradually the crowd thickened. By the time Rupert Holmes’ Escape started playing, it seemed most of the bar was on their feet, screaming about liking pina coladas.
The dancing went on for an hour or so, the lines between drag artists and audience members obscuring into a colourful, energetic blur. Then it was time for the performance, and people flocked to the chairs, tables and steps to find a good spot.
With Robert from Finance on the mic and music, the rest of Haunted Haus took to the floor for a group performance, showing off their fantastic costumes, dancing and miming to the music. The sequences were performed with flair and precision, with bold, passionate characters beaming through throughout. The practice and dedication everyone had put in was evident, and really quite remarkable considering the academic year hadn’t even started yet.
There was an even mix of Drag Queens and Drag Kings – female and male characters – clad in everything from Hawaiian shirts and set costume stubble, to blond wigs and silk nighties. Admiring the attention to detail in everyone’s dress and make-up, it became clear that performing was only half the art of drag – getting the outfit right is equally as important and requires just as much talent as the rest of it.
Individual sets kicked off with Ed Andrews’ Jack Strop and his risqué dance and strip tease. Strutting about the floor in a 90s bomber jacket and blue tape sideburns, Jack Strop’s was the ultimate lad cum player cum sex addict. The audience shrieked with excitement as Jack tore his t-shirt in half, and the performance reached a very literal climax with a simulated orgasm atop a chair centre stage.
Other performances saw society President and drag veteran Ally Goldberg performing as Grim Kreeper, a strip-teasing seductress complete with riding crop. Spike Parker, whose flawless lips and eye make-up definitely stole the show in terms of outfit, performed as Glamazon Prime, in a playful edit of LGBTQ+ icon Lady Gaga’s hit Telephone, featuring pop and R&B legend, Beyoncé. The track was spliced up with dialogue in which Glamazon was forced to answer her phone to a malevolent stalker and would-be murderer, in a sequence heavily inspired by horror movies, Scream and Ringu/The Ring.
Probably my favourite performance was that of Grace Keppel, who spliced together a number of cheesy chart hits to tell the story of her character, Little Boy Roy, and his progression through the bizarre, hyper-masculinised jungle of adolescence. One minute he was lolloping carefree to Wheatus’ Teenage Dirtbag (as were the rest of us), then mourning to Bruno Mars’ Grenade, then morphing into his ultimate fate – F***boy Roy – along to Britney’s Womanizer. Politically charged, yet refreshingly playful, Little Boy Roy’s exploits were hilarious and hard-hitting in equal measures.
Throughout the performances, the audience was alive with cheers, gasps and screams; eager faces were crammed up against the windows as the bar hit full capacity. Before the night dissolved once more into music and dancing that would keep students going until 2 am, DJ A J Hutchinson had an important announcement: “Drag is for everyone… you are welcome absolutely to DragSoc!”
DragSoc will be hosting their next show on Wednesday 4 October in Room 76, Falmer House – full details are available on the Facebook event. I sincerely hope to see you all there.
Featured Image: Georgia Grace