YUMMY: Joy Machine (Review)

Midsumma-2024-Yummy-Joy-Machine-photo-by-Joel-DevereuxYou can attend an arts festival for entertainment, but they can also lead you somewhere new, and maybe even challenge your ignorance. Some might have found that Joy Machine – a one-night-only Midsumma offering by Yummy – does the lot.

About the range of a glitter canon from the St Albans train station is the local community centre, housing the Bowery Theatre. Joy Machine’s host, Valerie Hex, advised us first-time visitors that the space is named for Leigh Bowery (1961-1994).

Sunshine-raised Bowery was a sometime club promoter, clothing designer, drag performer, and model, credited with influencing many fashion designers. Based on some of the artist’s work, the Bowery Theatre seems a very suitable place for drag … with adult themes.

The theatre is in the Brimbank Council area, and the embrace of Midsumma showed with rainbow tinsel around the venue. Patrons were sat at tables, each laid with fun-sized choc bars and mini packs of savoury treats. Just a little teaser of the “yummy” to follow.

Online info describes the company as a “… multi-award-winning cabaret company that incorporates drag, dance, circus, and burlesque…”, and that Joy Machine is “an outrageous and joyful drag variety show…”. We had a taste of this before the show started, with video of some high-octane physical acts projected on the front wall.

It appears a bit of a stretch to advertise a show that’s about three quarters lip-synching drag performances (and no circus acts) as “drag variety”. Maybe there were some venue limitations, but didn’t past versions of Yummy have a hoop act?

The occasional viewer of drag performances may have had highs and lows with these. However, the opening bracket of solos here quickly showed performers creating characters, and committing to their routines. Also, whilst most acts were high in energy, we were able to appreciate the diversity of styles on offer, and the colourful, sparkly, and sometimes quite eccentric costumes.

Much of the soundtrack featured club bangers and some classic dance tunes, and as the lyrics got wilder, so did the moves. To a Björk tune, the aggressive posture of Bendy Ben (in figure-hugging, sequinned blue outfit) gave us some futuristic blend of dance and martial arts.

Some later interaction with projected video gave us a surprising slant on The Simpsons. Jandruze had energetic shapes and quick changes. With a makeup-enhanced jawline, Yummy newcomer Randy Roy showed us how to be a Player to Shots.

Some other angles arrived through further members of the ensemble. Current “Ms Burlesque Victoria” Velma Vouloir gave us the rare chance to see a fan dance, one that had a lot of tease to it, at least initially.

Valerie Hex showed that story time from a drag queen is certainly a good thing, even if some of these tales aren’t for the kids. Her spin on a popular storybook, Possum Tragic gave us some amusing thoughts on how to navigate the world we share with conspiracy theorists.

Milo Hartill showed a wide range in their spots. An opening in sporty underwear showed assertive prancing and flexibility. A return to sing a version of I’m Every Woman with coquettish asides was both entertaining and educational.

Even if it wasn’t what some of us expected at the outset, we were treated to glamour, jiggling, colour, and confidence. This theatrical machine certainly put joy on the stage, and amongst the punters.

YUMMY: Joy Machine
Bowery Theatre, 33 Princess Street, St Albans
Performance: Saturday 3 February 2024
Information: www.yummytheshow.com

Image: YUMMY: Joy Machine – photo by Joel Devereux

Review: Jason Whyte