‘RuPaul’s Drag Race UK’ Season 2, Episode 2 recap: Jellicle songs for Jellicle ‘Rats’

When the dawn comes, tonight will be a memory, too

Remember the start of 2020? When COVID-19 hadn’t overtaken our lives? When the start of a new decade promised new possibilities? When Cats was the cinematic disaster that fans couldn’t stop hate-watching? It feels so long ago. Yet the second RuPaul announces that the queens will be performing “Rats: The Rusical” in this week’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, I’m transported. All of a sudden, I’m back in an Alamo Drafthouse theatre, screaming at the screen as “Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat” begins.

“Rats: The Rusical” is the latest in a line of musical challenges on Drag Race—however, as one of the few that requires live singing, it’s truer to the spirit of the original challenge from Season 6 (similarly called, “Shade: The Rusical”). The lyrics poke fun at all the absurdities of the Cats movie—the CGI! the nonsense plot!—but still retains tremendous affection for the show and its composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. The result is one of the better Rusicals, executed quite well by this season’s cast. There are clear standouts, but even those who perform “badly” would be at least safe in many other Rusical challenges.

The Drag Race UK Season 2 cast is impressing me in a big way. Each queen’s style feels distinct, and they all have strong senses of humour. They’re also very open about themselves, as we see this week when Cherry Valentine tells Sister Sister about her experience growing up in a traveling community. This isn’t just presented as an interesting character detail; it’s significantly unpacked to reveal how it has affected Cherry as a gay man. She talks about how toxic masculinity in her family and community keep her, even now, from being proud of being gay, and admits she can’t talk openly with her father about it.

Unlike other “mirror moments,” which have long been derided by the fandom for feeling inauthentic, this real and vulnerable moment comes about thanks to Cherry and Sister’s genuine, growing friendship. They go from joking around to a serious conversation not because it’ll make for good TV, but because Sister is sincerely interested in learning more about her new friend. This group really gels, and they’re already giving us both light and heavy storylines absolutely packed with cast charisma. That they can back this up with really delivering in the challenges—if not quite as well on the runway yet—is a sign that this season will be one for the record books.

Ginny Lemon, Tia Kofi, and Ellie Diamond during casting of “Rats: The Rusical.” Credit: Courtesy of World of Wonder
 

My favorite Rusical episodes really show off the work that goes into putting them together, from working on vocals to choreography. Michelle Visage, reminding us that she’s performed in the West End (in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, I say in my best Vinegar Strokes voice), works with the girls with the help of her vocal coach, Dane Chalfin. They do a great job of isolating what each of the girls needs, noting that theatre queen Veronica Green has a particularly impressive register. Veronica is a fighter, having appealed to get her role (“Evita,” in a reference to another ALW musical) over Cherry, and making the absolute most of it.

Veronica also thrives in choreography rehearsal with instructors Jay Revell and Kieran Daley Ward. There are stronger dancers in the cast—Asttina Mandella and Tayce both jump to mind—but Veronica really acts as she dances. Her Evita is seductive toward Asttina’s ingénue rat Jane, and despite presenting like a shy wallflower in her confessionals, Veronica really comes alive while performing. On the runway, in a “Surprise Surprise” category, Veronica serves Stepford Wife realness, transforming from a ’50s housewife into a sleek gold robot. She earns 10s across the board, and secures the challenge win.

She has plenty of competition, though! Tia Kofi, who assigns the roles for the Rusical, earns plaudits for her casting choices. She plays the Grizabella-esque character, a former lab rat who seeks validation despite the giant ear growing on her back—and stuns. Unfortunately, like many other queens this week, her runway falls flat and she just misses the win.

Among the safe queens, I’m pretty shocked that Bimini Bon Boulash, who plays Macavity Analogue Depravity, doesn’t earn more kudos. She’s high-energy and fun in the performance, but an unfortunate paint balloon trick in her runway look doesn’t pay off. She’s relegated to the safe group, along with her performing partner A’Whora. Luckiest among the safe dolls is Sister Sister, whose musical partners Cherry and Lawrence Chaney both wind up in the bottom three.

Tia Kofi and Ginny Lemon performing in “Rats: The Rusical.” Credit: Courtesy of World of Wonder

After an exceedingly strong premiere, this episode is something of a return-to-Earth moment for Lawrence. She doesn’t do badly, exactly, but amid such a strong crew, any show of weakness is a chance for critique. She gets in her own head during choreography lessons, and admits to being something of a perfectionist. Additionally, while her surprise runway is fine, it doesn’t knock the judges’ socks off.

It’s pretty obvious Cherry and Tayce will be the bottom two, as they faded into the background in the challenge. (And that’s saying something, considering Tayce still kills a great bit of her choreography. Seriously, this is a tough challenge to judge.) But Lawrence gets the most editing focus, seemingly because it’s such a twist of events after doing so well last week. To me, though, this is the best thing that could happen to Lawrence. Early favourites tend to earn fanbase ire if they’re overpraised by the judges. Getting some criticism early resets her arc a bit, and gives her the chance to grow.

Tayce, who is an instant favourite of mine based on these first two episodes, is in many ways the opposite of Lawrence. She started on a low, landing in the bottom two very early on, but she’s such a narrator that it’s hard to imagine her being eliminated early. She has nowhere to go but up, and manages to impress with a very emotional lip-sync of “Memory” from Cats. It’s interesting that a queen so known for dancing would get her first lip sync win on a song that requires no dancing at all. If Tayce winds up in the bottom two again, it’s likely that she’ll be able to show an entirely different side of herself. That’s a very favourable position to be in.

Tayce lip-syncing for her life to “Memory” from Cats. Credit: Courtesy of World of Wonder

Alas, Tayce’s victory means Cherry’s defeat, and we say goodbye to the affable, adorable fashion queen. I can’t argue with the result—either with her landing in the bottom or losing the lip sync. But it’s a shame: She’s clearly talented, and if she was part of another cast, she would’ve likely made it much farther. Her looks alone—with the exception of the wig in her runway look this week—deserved more time to revel in them.

But Drag Race UK Season 2 is not a field to be simply “good.” This group is performing at a high level, both in the challenges and as cast members on a television show. They’ve all got narratives, they’ve got fun banter and they’re incredibly entertaining to watch. Cherry didn’t stand out, and that was enough to earn her elimination this week. (Though all the credit to her for a perfectly delivered “oh, RATS!” on her way out the door.)

Ten queens remain, and I’m honestly not sure who could go next. Ginny Lemon has been largely overlooked so far, but she’s such a big character. A’Whora is shaping up to be a fun villain. Asttina remains dominant. Even Sister Sister, who I wasn’t much impressed with last week, gave great workroom moments this episode. Whoever goes next, I’ll be sad to see them leave—but the show must go on.

Untucking our final thoughts

✨Up and Down: Lawrence takes a bit of a tumble in the pecking order after a super strong first week. Tia impressed last week with her personality, but now lands herself in the top echelon based on her performance as well. (If she could figure out her runway look, she’d be set!) And of course, Veronica vaults to the top of the pack based on her win. Maybe most interesting is Ellie’s positioning, as she’s so far the only queen to earn a top spot twice. The judges seem very excited about her and her “modern” drag—we’ll see if she can keep up the momentum.

Ginny chides Lawrence over using her comic material, which Lawrence responds to in her confessional: “We use the same six jokes and they’re from Penguin chocolate bars.”

The voting mini-challenge is such a clever task, giving us a good sense of what these queens are thinking of each other right out of the gate. A’Whora wins Secretary of Shade and Tayce wins Trade Minister—both very correct—while Lawrence wins a prize for being the cockiest queen (I disagree but get it), and Tia is crowned Baroness Basic. Joke’s on the other queens, though: Tia gets to assign the roles because of her basic prize. The turns have tabled!

Sheridan Smith is so cute and thrilled to be there, but I think she’s a little too gentle as a guest judge. As someone with major theatre experience, I would’ve loved to hear more expert critique from her.

Drag Race UK is uncensored on WOW Presents Plus, but when Tayce drops the C-word, there is an attempt to bleep it out. However, her audio doesn’t drop, and you can fully hear her say it over the censor. Whoops!

Speaking of, I’m pretty much all-in on Tayce at this point, and thus am very glad she does not go home. Her comic timing in confessionals is excellent: “Would I compare myself to an Elaine Paige or a Jane McDonald? No.” She’s also so delighted about being named Trade Minister, and pokes fun at her own accent with a joke about being subtitled. Love her!

One more Tayce bit and then I swear I’m done: Apparently she and A’Whora are previously intimately familiar! It’s played for a little bit of intrigue here (and is quite a sexy moment to boot), but it looks like it comes out in a bigger way next week. Excited to see what goes down.

A lot of great fashion moments from the judging panel this week. Michelle Visage’s pigtails are a moment, I covet Alan Carr’s jacket and Ru’s dress and wig are stunning. They’re turning it for the new season!

It happened: Ru did not say “in a moment, I’ll ask one of you to shantay, which means stay.” And you know what? I missed it. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. But to quote Grizabella, “a new day has begun.”

Every Friday at 4 p.m. EST, join Xtra’s Kiki with Kevin live on Facebook, where he’ll be talking  about RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13 and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Season 2. And hold on to your crumpets, because Kevin will be spilling the tea!
The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK will be available to stream Thursday, Jan. 28, at 2 p.m. EST on WOW Presents Plus in the U.S. and OUTtv in Canada, as well as on BBC Three and the BBC’s iPlayer in the United Kingdom. Additionally, episodes are available the same day on Crave in Canada, and Fridays the week following at 8 p.m. EST on Logo in the U.S. For other countries, check World of Wonder’s streaming guide.

Kevin O’Keeffe is a writer, host, instructor, and RuPaul’s Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles, California. His favourite pastime is watching a perfect lip sync.

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