The appetite for drag is so ferocious these days, there’s little that can rain on the parade of an all-star lineup of live talent – even on an actual rainy summer’s evening in Cardiff. But unfortunately, MODE 2 – sequel to, yes, you’ve guessed it, 2021’s MODE – ends its UK run of shows in the Welsh capital with more of a damp whimper than a bang.
Getting this show to even happen has been difficult for organiser Klub Kids, with multiple date reschedules and lineup changes (the two probably going hand-in-hand), perhaps dooming proceedings before they even began. Warning signs continued when tickets were being given away for ‘free’ a week before the Cardiff date, conditional on at least £10 of merch being bought upon entry. This included the VIP tickets, originally priced at around £60. I’d hope those who purchased them a while back got some kind of remuneration for this.
Still, you can’t complain too much about what is essentially a cheap ticket and merch bundle, even if it’s transparently a last-ditch effort to placate fans who’ve been patiently waiting months for MODE 2, plus a way to shift dead stock before the tour wraps up. Additionally, I’m sure no one really minds putting some extra money in working queens’ pockets (hopefully), especially with drag being under political attack at the moment – referenced by American Drag Race-er Kahanna Montrese during her opening number.
For anyone who skipped All Stars 8 – which you’d be forgiven for; Drag Race fatigue is real – Kahanna’s high-energy opening is strong evidence of how much she’s blossomed after her disastrous run on Season 11. It’s a real shame that the production then completely fails to maintain her pains to warm the crowd up – some of whom had been waiting for the show to start for roughly three hours. (One audience member flashes her iPhone calculator at me to illustrate the horrifically comical amount she’s sunk into merchandise and VKs at the bar. £86 worth of boredom.)
A series of technical mishaps plague the late-running show from there: incorrect backing tracks are played not once, not twice, not even thrice, but multiple times, sometimes in a row. Luckily, as aforementioned, drag fans are more forgiving than most, breaking out into an acapella version of Madonna’s Like A Prayer when the song is repeatedly started and stopped. This means local queen – and Eurovision performer! – Greta Tude has to work doubly hard, already an uphill battle for her with less name recognition than the others on the bill: Kahanna, Luxx Noir London, A’Whora and Canada’s Drag Race Season 2 winner, Icesis Couture. Other overly long pauses between acts, wardrobe mishaps, lighting and timing problems also kill the flow, not to mention the first half being a mere 30 minutes, followed by a 20-minute break. More time for VKs!
Technical problems aside, this is still sadly a weak echo of the first MODE, which I wrote a glowing review of previously. The concept is ambitious for Klub Kids, with the original show at Tramshed fusing runways of fashion made especially for it, original videos, incredible dance numbers and live singing. With very few runways, no named designers, an abundance of Drag Race montages, and barely any cohesiveness, MODE 2 feels like those lesser-budgeted direct-to-video sequels to Disney blockbusters the company churned out to make money in the 90s.
What keeps it from feeling like a total letdown is the quality of the performers and the energy of the audience. A highlight of the evening is said members being invited to do a ‘walk off’, where it becomes clear there’s as much talent off the stage as on it. It’s not exactly a compliment that audience participation steals the show, but I lapped up the impromptu entertainment all the same.
MODE 2, Y Plas, Cardiff University Students Union, Tue 1 Aug
words and photos HANNAH COLLINS