Sound of the Underground Reviews ★★★★

A reviews round-up for Sound of the Underground at the Royal Court in London.

Travis Alabanza’s first play for the Royal Court is about London’s iconic underground club culture – questioning what it means to get your money’s worth when it comes to art.

Written by Travis Alabanza (Burgerz), and co-created and directed by Debbie Hannan, 8 legends of the London queer club scene take over the Royal Court Theatre for this part-play, part-cabaret show.

Sound of the Underground plays at the Royal Court until 25 February 2023.

Read reviews, below, from the Guardian, Stage, TimeOut, The Times and more. More reviews to follow.

Book tickets to Sound of the Underground at the Royal Court Theatre in London

Average Critics Rating
★★★★

Sound of the Underground reviews

The Stage
★★★★

"An evening of party, celebration and confession"

"Riot of a show exploring the realities of the queer club scene"

"In Travis Alabanza’s new play, the audience is taken hostage by eight legends from the queer club scene. Extravagantly dressed, with brightly coloured make-up to match, they storm the theatre through the back doors, raucously screaming and ready to riot. This is not theatre as we know it; this is an evening of party, celebration and confession.

"The result is a piece with some big messages. At first, it is a show-and-tell exercise about the realities of working in the club scene; then, a beautifully outrageous performance that proves the power of their art. But there is real pain and trauma here, too."

Anya Ryan, The Stage
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The Guardian
★★★★★

"Magnificent explosion of mesmerising drag"

"A plot to kill RuPaul for dragging drag into the mainstream, followed by song and dance numbers, fires up an exhilarating show with breathtaking costumes, radical politics and filthy humour"

"It takes some time for Travis Alabanza’s show about the underground drag scene to set alight. But once it does, somewhere in the later part of the first act – after the awkward early scenes – it is a magnificent explosion of burlesque, feather boas, radical politics, pain, anger, filthy humour and breathtaking drag."

"Each act in the second half is as exquisite and exhilarating as the next, showing us that drag is as much about dream, fantasy and dress-up as escape, liberation and self-expression through masquerade."

"Sue Gives A Fuck, acting as compere, speaks of the sadness and joy in drag. There is certainly sadness in this show, sudden and gut-wrenching but the joy of performance too, and it is a sheer joy to watch."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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TimeOut
★★★★

"Vauxhall comes to Sloane Square as Travis Alabanza celebrates London’s underground drag culture in a gloriously sprawling Royal Court debut"

"Fittingly, ‘Sound of the Underground’ resists definition and genre. Neither entirely theatre, nor entirely cabaret, it is triumphantly queer. It brings a loud, proud drag culture into the Royal Court, with performers that are self-consciously far removed from the shiny reality TV of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’. Vauxhall has moved its bags into Sloane Square."

"As co-created and directed by Debbie Hannan, this is a colourfully sprawling – sometimes verging into baggy – show. Woven into its spectacle and set-pieces is an electrically charged anger at the near impossibility of sustaining a liveable career in the arts. It also targets the blind-eyed faddishness of people who will click and clap non-binary, trans and queer drag artists, but are nowhere to be seen when their lives are questioned, threatened or attacked."

"This production isn’t perfectly polished and it’s self-indulgent in places. But its imperfections – its sprawl – are part of its point. It’s deliberately showing us the mess behind the curtain. It won’t be for everyone. It’s not trying to be. But there’s an anarchic energy written into it. If you’ve ever felt unrepresented on stage, take a trip underground."

Tom Wicker, TimeOut
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The Times
★★★

"Travis Alabanza’s show teeters about like a drag queen"

"The young, gifted, non-binary writer and performer Travis Alabanza’s first crack at the Royal Court’s main stage is anything but a conventional night out at the theatre. Co-created with the director Debbie Hannan, think of it instead as a community takeover and cultural event. This rude, raucous, smartly questioning yet celebratory dive into London’s queer club scene and the politics of art-making is also a rather fabulous showcase for eight distinctive, cabaret-style performers."

"If there are more highs than lows here it is, in large part, because of the cast’s individual and collective brio."

"The compere, Sue Gives a F***, is a model of stylish grandeur and innuendo-laden wit. Alabanza’s extravaganza ends in a spirit of solidarity — messy, but heartfelt, like the show itself."

Donald Hutera, The Times
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The Telegraph
★★★

"A bit of a mess, but not a drag"

"Coherent arguments are not the strong point of this celebration of drag – but its wayward, high-wire energy is hard to resist"

"... Travis Alabanza’s new show (let’s not call it a play), which rests on a somewhat confected provocation: the takeover of an establishment space by underground artists who do so much to influence mainstream culture while simultaneously being marginalised and commodified by it. Hmm. Those who suspect the Court is growing ever further from its own roots will likely not have their fears assuaged by this premise."

"By the second act, the production has knowingly abandoned its flimsy pretence and revealed itself to be what it was all along: a joyous celebration of drag performance..."

"Where once the Court might have put on a decent play scrutinising the economics of drag and the audience gaze, it now settles for blithely virtue-signalling its way through these issues instead. Yet this show’s wayward, high-wire energy had me hooked. As befits drag itself, it's much better at distilling its ideas through actual performance."

Claire Allfree, The Telegraph
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The Observer
★★★★

"Travis Alabanza and friends joyously return drag to its radical roots"

"Anyone who thinks theatre costumes are incidental decorations should go to Sound of the Underground. Anyone who thinks that drag performances are only about frocks should join them."

"Travis Alabanza’s new show, created with Debbie Hannan, brings queer culture to the Royal Court in a glorious, multiforked parade of talent. It sets out to rescue performers from the jostling commercialism of RuPaul, the villain of the evening, and from being wheeled on to strut predictably at hen parties. It aims to celebrate the individual work – song, movement, the making up of a persona in front of an audience – that used to take place in sticky basements. It discusses difficulties, from verbal abuse to low pay. It teases the Court’s audience and parodies its stage: a bucket is sent around for money; a glossy kitchen-sink scene, styled with a “Cos-style aesthetic”, has actors snapping and pausing portentously while they make tea."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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📷 Main photo: Sound of the Underground. Photo by Helen Murray

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