Drag Race UK’s Vinegar Strokes on stunning all-Black tribute to ‘raging, gorgeous homo’ Oscar Wilde
She’s bagged acting roles across the board, from the West End ‘Dragatha Christie’ extravaganza Death Drop, to opera thriller Begæret Mysterier in Denmark.
Now, she’s taking on the formidable role of Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s legendary show The Importance of Being Earnest.
“Lady Bracknell is definitely a part I never expected to play,” Strokes tells PinkNews. “It’s just an honour to be able to play this role.
“There is something so amazing about being a gay actor, a drag queen, and to be able to infuse the art of that into an Oscar Wilde play – who we know was a raging, gorgeous, homo,” she says, with a rip-roaring cackle.
Vinegar Strokes will be channelling “vivacious and sassy” female characters from shows like Desperate Housewives and Death Becomes Her for her Lady Bracknell interpretation, while the show itself will be told from the perspective of wealthy Black Victorians.
“The whole cast is a Black or POC [people of colour] cast. I think it’s quite exciting to take this piece which we know to be predominantly a white cast… what we’re highlighting more here is that actually, in that time, there were Black people of wealth and it’s how they affected the societal moments of that time.”
“There’s no changes to the script in a dramatic way,” she says. “The script is full of that shade and wit that Oscar Wilde already wrote in there. We’re just kind of like pulling out a little bit more and giving it that kind of Black twist that comes with being a strong Black person.”
Unfortunately, there are always those who take issue with well-known stories being artistically reframed from different perspectives. Take, for example, the anti-trans backlash to the reimagining of Joan of Arc as non-binary, in new show I, Joan. Strokes, however, isn’t bothered about those opinions.
“I think there are people out there who will hear about this and go, ‘Oh, it’s another woke moment,’” she says. “I think the main point is that we’re not playing white people. We’re playing Black people who actually existed in this world at this time. It’s exciting to have an educational moment in there.”
The fact drag queens like Vinegar Strokes can secure big roles in some of the UK’s best-loved theatre shows is a great win for LGBTQ+ representation. This integration into the mainstream isn’t just happening on stage, either: Drag Race UK season three finalist Kitty Scott-Claus made the judges eat it on Celebrity Masterchef, while Courtney Act will soon be dragging up some of the nation’s favourite straight celebs on ITV’s Queens For The Night.
Yet drag queen Aida H Dee has received a staggering amount of abuse simply for reading to children as part of her national Drag Queen Story Hour events.
Is there really any difference between children seeing a drag queen on stage, and seeing one in a library?
“The only difference is probably budget,” Strokes laughs.
“I remember going to panto when I was like six-years-old and going, ‘Is that a man or woman in that really mad dress and that mad wig?’ So, as a country, Britain has been exposed to men in wigs and men in dresses telling stories since Shakespeare.
“At the end of the day, it’s performance, it’s storytelling and it’s just fabric. It’s just fabric! Just chill out for a second.”
Last Christmas, Vinegar Strokes starred in a pantomime in Sevenoaks, getting into full mermaid drag at 8am to perform for groups of school children. And they loved it.
“They were loving the songs, they were loving the poems and that kind of stuff. For me, panto is no different from a Drag Queen Story Time,” she says. “There are bigger things going on in the world.”
Despite these attacks, the UK’s fabulous drag scene isn’t going anywhere. Drag Race UK season four finally has a premiere date, while season five is officially a go-er.
“I will confess, the last season I properly watched was the UK vs The World one where Blu [Hydrangea] won it,” Strokes says. “I’ve been so busy!”
“I’m going to try and catch season four because I know a few people on it, so that’s very exciting.
“I’ve always said that Alison Hammond had to be on there and she’s on it, which is amazing.”
Other than her simply stunning Kat Slater entrance line (“I didn’t become a little bit of a slag, I became a TOTAL SLAAAAG”), Strokes’ time on Drag Race UK is probably best defined by her lip-sync to Dua Lipa’s “New Rules”, during which she tore off several wigs.
As the show returns, which songs would she love to see the queens wig-revealing to this season?
“Steps would be a great one. ‘Tragedy’ I think is a bit too obvious, or like ‘Deeper Shade of Blue’. Any Steps — let’s just do the full steps platinum megamix!”
The Importance of Being Earnest will be touring at several theatres nationwide from 8 September to 12 November.
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