Culture: Theatre

Beige Reviews Velma Celli at The Hippodrome Casino

Standing a good 6′ 8″ high in sequinned platforms and a flowing scarlet wig Velma Celli cut a formidable figure as she strode imperiously on to the stage at The Hippodrome Casino’s intimate Matcham Room for the first in a series of new shows. You were left in no doubt that this was a woman with enough high voltage to rival the National Grid.

Celli is the alter ego of Ian Stroughair, an experienced West End performer who counts Rent and Chicago among his work, and appropriately he opened with a rendition of Chiacgo’s ‘Roxie’, re-naming it ‘Velma’ and twisting the lyrcis to suit his outrageous persona. This was the first of a number of audacious, yet skillfully executed acts in an evening featuring awe inspiring aerial hooping, hand balancing and scintillating burlesque.

Celli’s voice is a remarkable instrument. She possesses a fiercesome belt capable of both ripping out the passionate heart of numbers from Rent and wrapping itself around standards like Lorenz Hart’s My Funny Valentine. Her delivery is pitch-perfect and sends shivers down the spine.

Jordan Lee Davis, who appeared on BBC’s The Voice, proved to be the perfect vocal partner and listening to his stripped down version of Pink’s ‘Just Like A Pill’ one couldn’t help but conclude that it was a travesty that he didn’t win the televised singing competition. The most intelligent performers add a new resonance to familiar songs, deftly searching them for unexpected meanings, while foregrounding shadowy vulnerability. Davis is such a performer and will, undoubtedly, go far.

Joining Celli were also aerial performer Ben Brown and hand balancer Jonathan Finch, who transfixed the audience with poetic, gravity defying feats. Burlesque dancer Jolie Papillon upped the sexual charge, while Celli’s new partner in crime, Mr Fox, demonstrated impeccable comic timing in an uproarious duet commenting on the casting of Kerry Katona’s ‘over-sized prawn ring’ as Marilyn Monroe in a future West End musical.

The night, however, belonged to Celli, who exudes a natural charisma and effervescent presence. Her skill is taking the best traditions of drag, with its risque banter and camp, and then adding a well judged dose of self-deprecation and irony. But more importantly than that – class and good old fashioned talent. This is so much more than just another drag show – it’s a masterclass in wit and joy.

The Velma Celli show is at The Hippodromne Casino 22 August and 20 September.

Read our interview with Velma HERE 

Words: Alex Hopkins

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