REVIEW: Leidy Lei’s Tainted Nightmare (Auckland Pride)

Review by Jess Macdonald

[Tainted Love]

A small audience of about thirty people arrive into a large theatre. Most members seem to arrive from next door, where No Homo comedy played to a full house,and from the second row the empty stage feels too far away from the action. I hope our combined enthusiasm can create atmosphere for the drag stars as they perform. 

Leidy Lei proves to be a wonderful MC, with carefully considered narration creating atmosphere from the wings, and the small audience try their best to provide support to the acts as they lip-sync to powerful mash-ups. Artistic visuals are displayed on the projector behind Margarita Blades, giving intimacy to the spectacle. 

Luna plays with the Tainted Nightmare theme, and there is a distinct contrast between her two performances. In the first, plastic wires are attached to her body; her face is obscured by white blonde hair. The physical barriers and lack of eye contact make it difficult to engage with her lip-sync, yet in the second act she bursts alive with a new ownership – pushing character boundaries with wild movement, dancing and head-banging to her eclectic song.    

Positioned downstage during Monument, Ratty strips off her regal outfit and hair piece to reveal tender vulnerability beneath the make-up. This is in complete contrast with her first act performance of Mr Sandman, punctuating the lyrical underscore of ‘bum-bum-bum…’ with a cheeky snap. Moments like this have the audience in fits of laughter, and lighter moments are the more successful throughout the night.   

The visuals continue to elevate the acts through expressive close-ups, artistic vignettes and even a cartoon superhero animation by Natrasha as she gyrates to Miley Cyrus’s Mother’s Daughter. Artwork helpfully holds audience attention through her quick-change, adding to emotion during slower numbers. 

Leidy’s stand-out performance showcases a melodic voice, breaking the mould of drag lip-sync. After losing the opening line due to tech issues, she delivers a moving and original rendition of I Will Follow You Into The Dark.

Throughout the night, Natrasha is a clear audience favourite – due in part to a fan-following as well as her final song choice. She embodies Lady Gaga’s Judas, mimicking the star’s bold blood-red outfit, and writhes on stage as she tries to break the confines of swathes of maroon material. This action fills the stage for the first time and is one of the most memorable methods, alongside Margarita Blade’s roller-skating to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now

There are few things more likely to get an audience smiling and cheering than a drag star circling the stage on skates, and the song is a real highlight – a lighter take on the ‘Tainted Nightmare theme.’ With Margarita dressed in devil horns, there is pure, camp pride at its core.    

By the end of the evening – close to midnight – it’s clear the performers have exceptional artistic talent and creativity, as well as determination and commitment to their craft. 

It’s a shame the audience wasn’t larger, to fully appreciate their art.      

Leidy Lei’s Tainted Nightmare: The Gods and Monsters Season played Q Loft 14 to 15 February, 2020. 

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