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Courtney Act: Under The Covers at Underbelly Festival

14 May 2019 | Billie Manning

The first word that comes to mind when thinking of Courtney Act is ‘polished’.

The Australian queen, a.k.a Shane Jenek, was a finalist for Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, rolling into runner-up status only in the face of the formidable competition of Bianca del Rio; she won Celebrity Big Brother over here, facing down Ann Widdecombe’s insistently ignorant comments; and she just placed second in Australia’s version of Strictly, Dancing with the Stars. She is a multi-talented powerhouse, and she wastes no time in showing all those talents in her new show, Under the Covers, which is taking over the Belly tent at Underbelly this week.
 
The concept of the show revolves around covers – in the musical sense, and in the sense of bedcovers, and what we hide underneath them. Multi-talented as she is, Act’s voice is one of her greatest assets, and hearing her belt out crowd pleasers is great fun, particularly when they have a sprinkle of humour. Her between-song patter works when she’s interacting with the audience – heckling people on their way to the loo or gently teasing her ‘season ticket holder’ superfans – and is best when she’s teasing straight men, of course. But at times it feels forced – you can feel that the experienced queen is aware of how many times she’s told some of the scripted jokes.
 
Courtney Act: Under the Covers at Underbelly Festival

The looks, of course, are what you might call sickening. The signature platinum blonde hair gets three stylings, from an Ariana Grande-esque pony to sophisticated curls, and there are sequins and bodysuits (Jesus, that tuck) and impressive reveals galore. There’s a whole bunch of Drag Race references, which will make fans giggle even when they’re slightly crowbarred in (think changing Amy Winehouse’s Valerie to Miss Vanjie). There’s even a little pre-recorded back and forth with a rather grumpy 'Siri del Rio'.
 
Two song choices, however cannot be ignored: R Kelly’s Ignition and Michael Jackson’s Beat It. In a show from a queen who talks about social issues as delicately and intelligently as Act does, it’s very surprising to see these choices. It’s difficult to understand spending a large portion of the show talking – very movingly – about Act’s struggle to understand her gender identity, and realising her dream of seeing ‘two boys dance together on TV’ on Dancing With The Stars, while also performing songs by artists who have recently been accused of serious crimes against women and children in high-profile cases.
 
The show ends on a high, with the surprise in the encore my favourite moment of the night, but I would have left with a better taste in my mouth had some of the musical choices been a little more considered.

Courtney Act: Under the Covers is at Underbelly Festival Southbank until 19 May.
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