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Review: The Switch Up at The Arcana

Review By Grace Swadling


It’s not often you get to see pure, unadulterated chaos on stage but that is exactly what you’ll get on a night out at ‘The Switch Up’. A self-proclaimed “giant experiment” ‘The Switch Up’ collides the comedy and drag worlds together, with drag performers and comedians showcasing what they do best before the roles are reversed! A simple premise, produced by Thomas Bleach and Joshua Collins but one that was both highly entertaining and fascinating for an audience to experience.

From the moment you walk in, the space has an incredible atmosphere; with red velvet curtains, DJ Pia Pressure playing iconic pop hits in a bubblegum pink wig and many audience members dressed to the nines. It was like walking into a club on Sydney’s Oxford Street; quite an impressive feat for a space tucked away on a dark street in Brisbane’s outer suburbia. Despite both comedians and drag queen’s alike trashing the suburb mercilessly, it was a joy to discover a space like The Arcana in Moorooka and one I am definitely keen to revisit.


Co-hosts Lulu Lemans and Rhi Down opened the show with a bang and had amazing chemistry, keeping the room entertained in between sets whilst also performing themselves. Lulu Lemans set the tone with a glamorous and glitzy opening lip sync number but it was Rhi Down who stole the show with her lip sync to Robyns ‘Dancing on My Own’; which involved audience participation, a single white sheet with a hole cut it to it and some incredible dance moves despite her being, to quote one of the drag queens, “402 weeks pregnant”.


The comedy sets were short, sharp and snappy; Emma Holland’s awkward, oddball schtick was a stand-out and her audience participation was a highlight of her set. Bryce Lancaster was equally enjoyable, if a little less polished, although his drawing humor landed better than his anecdotal stand-up. Anisa Nandaula commanded the room and presented a powerful set, diving into her Australian-African heritage and her relationship with a sharp wit and even sharper tongue.


Then it was time for the lip syncs and all three drag queens absolutely delivered. Sydney-based King the Drag Queen brought the leather and latex despite the sweltering Brisbane heat and not only killed it on stage but also threw in a death drop which made the crowd go wild. Stefani Stefani brought the high energy in 80’s workout gear and successfully reignited the audience’s love for the ‘Vengaboys’ with her mash-up of ‘Groove is in the Heart’ and ‘We Like to Party.’ Last but certainly not least was the incredible Henny Spaghetti whose overall stage presence and committment to theatricality in her rendition of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’ and ‘I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight’ was only overshadowed by her backwards slide off the stage whilst the hosts were trying to talk.


Even without the added element of “the switch” this would have been a fun night out but after a brief interval, each side delivered in their best imitation of the other’s profession. I’m not usually a fan of roasts but the drag queens gave as good as they got in a hilariously “consensual” drag roast. There were some incredible zingers but it was evident that everyone involved in the production had obviously been friends for some time, as the roasts included a lot of personal in-jokes. That combined with the fact that the roast almost lingered a little too long meant that for me it was the least exciting moment of the evening but it did give the comedians more time to get ready for their lip syncs.


In what was easily the most phenomenal part of the event, each comedian committed so hard in what is no easy feat - performing in head to toe drag for the first time ever! With the help of local makeup and drag artists, they were each transformed into beautiful drag versions of themselves and took to the stage in three completely different yet exciting performances. Holland brought camp comedy humor alive in her rendition of ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ which included a reveal of a homemade Kony 2012 apron and her drinking Windex from a martini glass. Lancaster’s gorgeous drag queen took on Lizzo’s ‘Truth Hurts’ and had the crowd rolling in tears after a stunning double reveal of what was under her shirt. Nandaula’s performance of ‘Whip My Hair Back and Forth’ had us all screaming and has to be seen to be believed (hint: she was not talking about the hair on her head). The atmosphere in the room during these performances were absolutely amazing - there was so much support for the comedians and you could tell performers and audience alike were having a great time. The whole event really seemed like a labor of love and I commend both the organizers and performers who worked to make this just a really enjoyable night out in a safe queer space.


As an audience member, I would’ve loved to have seen the drag queens and the comedians interact more but all in all, it was a thoroughly entertaining night and an exciting new concept executed in such a joyful way. Polished yet spontaneous, chaotic yet never overly cringey or uncomfortable, this is drag and comedy at its finest!

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