Review: Sasha Velour at The Forum

Just like her drag, Sasha Velour’s new one-woman show defies definition in any one box. In her own words, it is ‘part bootleg magic show, part sexy self-help seminar, part dramatic performance art’. She opened by lip syncing to Sia’s ‘Cellophane’, a beautiful introduction to the show’s focus on her battle with her mental health. Reminiscent of Judith Butler’s work on performative gender, Velour projected her makeup-smeared face, lit by a torch, onto her white gown, dealing effectively with the contrast between the Sasha that we see and the inner turmoil that she has experienced in her rise to fame. Around her performances, she created a humorous spectacle out of the backstage workings of the show, that felt as much a sociological critique as the performances themselves. She continues to throw away the concept of a linear narrative and binary conceptions of the self, and instead bares all for her audience – even the less glamorous Sasha mopping up with a bucket after the show. 

Velour developed her commentary on fame and its impact on mental health, warping Annie Lennox’s ‘Precious’ to illustrate how the seemingly divine forces of status and attention can corrupt, transitioning from an angel to something more demonic on stage. She paid homage to her stint on Ru Paul’s Drag Race in a performance of ‘Fame’, pulling on the chequered flag motif, using pre-recorded versions of herself as backing dancers. Never one to glorify the journey to fame, Sasha ends the number with a choreographed disaster, spinning into chaos at increasing speed, much like what awaits contestants after being featured on the now mainstream drag show that gave Velour her break. In a rare moment of crowd-pleasing, Velour recreated her crown-winning rendition of ‘So Emotional’ by Whitney Houston. It felt fitting to share this moment with the crowd, highlighting the lip-sync that catapulted her into fame and cemented her place in drag history. The next two numbers played on two new characters, the clown and its captor, presenting an even darker take on show business, and laying bare the sexism rooted within the industry. 

A highlight of the show was her love letter to the queer community, set to Judy Garland’s ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’. A comical and optimistic take on the gay rights movement, Velour danced through projected thunderstorms, entering various states of dishevel, with bizarre hairstyles to match. Carrying on the theme of love and loss, she gave a sweet rendition of ‘If You Go Away’ by Shirley Bassey, dedicated to her mum’s battle with cancer, a performance that she stopped doing after her death. It was a beautiful and bizarre commentary centring around the juxtaposition of cartoon graphics and a very genuine emotional message. She ended her show by transforming into a tree and blooming, which is exactly what she has done, through having a platform to showcase her talent free from the constraints of the reality TV formula we are accustomed to seeing her within. 

Velour was met with a standing ovation, and this should not come as a surprise. She has cultivated a dedicated fanbase through her particular brand of bizarre, filling the gap in the market for the queer people who do not find themselves at home in the stereotypical gay bar. She promises a future where drag is taken seriously as an art form. Gone are the days of pop covers in grimy bars, Velour has pioneered a new drag: built for the big stage, immersed in technology and dripping with life and potential. 

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