BWW Review: COURTNEY ACT: UNDER THE COVERS, Underbelly Festival
Back in 2014, audiences stared rapt into their televisions as Courtney Act (aka Shane Jenek) debuted her flair and undeniable gorgeousness as one of the participants in RuPaul's Drag Race. They were already well known in their native Australia as they'd been the first queer contestant on reality TV, but the competition turned Courtney into a worldwide star.
Since then, Jenek appeared in (and won) the 2018 edition of Celebrity Big Brother UK and was a runner-up on this year's season of the Australian Dancing with the Stars, in which Jenek made history (again) with Joshua Keefe as the first same-sex couple to be paired on the show. After a run at Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer, Under The Covers arrives in London, putting together Act's showmanship and vocal prowess to take audiences "under the covers of music and life".
She compares covering songs to a drag act, adding and stripping off elements to reveal a person's own self through performing. Running just over an hour, the cabaret is jam-packed with comedy and musical numbers. She mixes humour and breeziness until she touches the core of the evening: time nearly arrests as the drag queen speaks of gender identity, fluidity, finding oneself, and the inherent nature of her art.
She shares what it meant growing up queer in Sydney, educating and never patronising her public in a strong script that leaves plenty of space to adapt it to her nightly crowds. Once she metaphorically tones down the glitter, her cleverness and passion for equality come out vividly, turning the act into a lot more than a vapid drag cabaret.
The show runs smoothly with well-crafted changes - although the insertion of long video instalments in order to grant time to the performer to change outfits stalls it briefly. She is effortless as she juggles jokes and banter with touching personal experiences that reveal Under The Covers to be a journey to explain gender through music. Act belts out anything from pop to Disney-fied tunes, generously sprinkling references to her time on the various competitions.
She appeals to her loyal fanbase but never alienates the less savvy, opting to enlighten them on "The greatest cultural moment of 2018" as well as the importance of having straight allies when it comes to visibility. It's another dazzling win for Courtney Act, who seems to bring acceptance, positivity, and a good dose of camp wherever she goes.
Courtney Act: Under The Covers runs at Underbelly Festival until 19 May.