At points in Deathdrop – Back in the Habit it was clear some of the moments were aimed at an audience more familiar with RuPaul’s Drag Race than I. But to its credit these were few and far between and overall the feeling was one of warmth and inclusiveness, whatever your previous knowledge of either the Deathdrop franchise or the performers in it.
The show (I’m going with show, rather than play, which just feels a little too staid for this experience!) attempts to pull off that notoriously difficult combination of the comedy thriller. Usually the thrills succumb to the comedy or, occasionally, vice versa. Here, though, sometimes, they pull it off. The setting in Saint Bab’s nunnery is beautifully created with a convincing ecclesiastical vibe. Indeed, by having the set effectively playing it straight it allows more room for the comedy, whilst also providing the necessary dark corners for the thrills.
The stand-out performance for me was Louis Cyfer as Father Alfie Romeo, who has been sent by Rome to Saint Bab’s to discover what happened to one Father Spanky on a previous visit. Not all is as it should be at Saint Bab’s, with spooky corridors, zombies and the distant sound of children playing. Louis Cyfer delivered a performance which brought the character to life and allowed the comedy and thrills to flow naturally around them. It was in many ways a very generous performance, allowing others to show off and resisting, mostly, going for the easy laugh.
Decidedly in charge of proceedings was Mother Superior, played by Victoria Scone.With an on-stage presence which commands your attention, Mother Superior’s confidence and assurance helps the show through some otherwise weaker moments. River Medway as Sister Julie Andrews was suitably empathetic. Cheryl Hole was fine as Sister Mary Berry but lacked conviction for me, whilst Willam as Sis Titis clearly had some great one liner put downs, but these were too often lost in the delivery. I must also mention Corrina Buchan as (amongst other things) Inner Voice, who was very funny in a cleverly meta scene involving Father Alfie Romeo in a waking nightmare.
There are problems, though. The opening plot exposition is too long and, more importantly, doesn’t have enough laughs. It goes to great lengths in that opening to establish the set-up, but fails completely to set the tone. Once things got underway, the overall style felt a little vague, as though any idea that might get a laugh had been allowed into the script. The humour is decidedly Carry On Convent and, mostly, no more filthy than a Carry On film would be if they made it today. At some points it felt like it should be a musical, with the characters doing a Priscilla on us. But that didn’t happen. Curiously, though, near the end of Act One Sister Mary Julie Andrews gets to deliver a parody version of My Favourite Things. Having established by then that this isn’t a musical, this felt odd. On top of that, being the only number it had a lot of pressure on it. But it failed to provide a moment of spectacle and wasn’t a strong enough parody to be really funny – either musically or lyrically.
There’s a lot to like in the show. They have some good ideas and effective theatrical moments which bring surprise, scares and laughs. At the moment, though, it lacks cohesiveness. The storyline needs more momentum. With that, we might begin to care more about the fate of the sisters at Saint Bab’s. As it is, they’re fun to be with, have a great line in comedy names (I particularly liked Our Lady of Gaga!) and pick up the pace nicely in Act Two to provide a satisfying conclusion to proceedings. But there’s potential here for something better.