REVIEW: Anti Valentine’s Ball (Royal Vauxhall Tavern) ★★★★

Valentine’s Day is, without question, the most loathed socio-cultural pressure-pot that the world has ever kept repeating. Single? Hate it. In a relationship? Still deep down hate it. Don’t give a crap about it? There’s still a part of you that hates it. Because it adds so much goddamn pressure. But what if this was stripped away and replaced with a fabulous anti-bullshit evening of laughs, drag and drinks? Pop Horror at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern was there to supply exactly that.

We received a wonderfully warm welcome upon arrival, and were handed goody bags of items related to the evening, immediately adorned with a sticker that declared our relationship status – which would be relevant later. The RVT boasts a great layout for vibrant, immersive nights: a large bar area and different levels of seating all with good visibility towards the stage, where the magic happens. Everywhere I look there are people in lavish costumes, games set up for interval playtime and very apt decor (helium-filled balloons spelling ‘hate’ beautifully setting the tone), showing that Pop Horror has truly committed to delivering on its theme. We are invited to play ‘Speed Hating’, to have a go at the tombola that promises awful prizes (incidentally: my friend won a ‘You’ve got Chlamydia’ mug and is now cherishing it) and to sit through a romantic meal with the Grudge (yes, that’s a real thing), all whilst enjoying an array of unique and varied performances onstage.

Rhys’ Pieces dazzles as alter-ego The Phoenix, raising the roof with a Beyonce-themed performance with insatiable energy and sass that left everyone screaming. Performer ‘Fruit’ delivered an utterly barmy but undeniably entertaining song and dance act so visual that it can’t help but leave you chuckling on and off for days (I may not be able to eat a banana for some weeks, however).

Breda Von Teese’s extended performance as Nurse Dysentery was a crucial part of this evening’s wow-factor, with her hosting a good chunk of the action and keeping us doubled-over with glee. Especially brilliant was her ‘NHS Drop-In Clinic’, whereby a variety of ailments and activities were discussed in detail – who new golden showers was such a hot topic? A brilliantly written and thoroughly prepared act that would be superb as a full-length show.

After a somewhat slow start, I wondered what the evening would pull out of the bag to make good on its lavish promises of originality and solace from the commercial hype that surrounds V Day. However, it didn’t take long to appreciate the vibrancy and randomness of the performances, all so purposefully varied but somehow so in sync also, with no performer standing out as unnecessary or without charm. I adore how much this evening warmed the hearts of everyone around me; full-bellied laughter, slapping of knees and singing along at the top of our voices is a sure sign of excellent crowd engagement. Creator and producer Paul Joseph encourages complete artistic expression in a multitude of vivacious and fascinating performers, projecting the spirit of self-confidence and loving yourself – whether you are single, coupled up or somewhere in between – and this night left me feeling truly happy. Fantastic fun.

Reviewed by Laura Evans


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