Crystal Rasmussen review – drag star with charisma by the bucketload

Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh
A Romanov raised by wolves meets a struggling Lancashire boy in a memoir dipped in glamour and pulsating to powerpop

There’s a well-travelled road from boy- or girlband glory to solo success. So why shouldn’t it be open to alumni of the drag queen quintet Denim? Crystal Rasmussen sings in that supergroup and now turns their memoir Diary of a Drag Queen into a fringe show. It charts the life stories of Crystal – a Romanov who fled the Bolsheviks to be raised by wolves – and their alter ego Tom, a gender nonconforming boy in Lancashire, struggling to live a life without shame. They meet; they help one another; they become one – with costume changes and powerpop cover versions en route.

The twin-track narrative is a nice conceit, and it’s thrilling when they come together – by which stage, Crystal is married to seventh husband Mr Blobby and Tom is listening to Madonna on the school bus while being pelted with oranges. (The homophobia they experience gets worse, and is shocking.) Then the distinction between the two personae blurs, as Rasmussen reads from chapters of his memoir representing their various stations of their cross. Kate Bush, Madge herself and Minnie Riperton – if not quite with her signature top note – help the story along its way.

Finally, it tells a conventional story of an unconventional life, as Rasmussen’s “techniques to conquer shame and violence” are revealed to be self-acceptance and “valuing all the parts of myself”. (This is the kind of show where the performer is cheered for putting on a string of pearls.) The glamorous aspirations sometimes chafe against the lo-fi staging, and Rasmussen writhing semi-nude in a paddling pool brings little to the party. But they’ve got charisma by the bucketful, and a falsetto that slices to the heart.

• At Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh, until 25 August.

Read all our Edinburgh festival reviews.

Contributor

Brian Logan

The GuardianTramp

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