Drag

“I Went Out One Night And It Lasted Three Years”

Controversialist. Anti-drag queen. Philosopher king. David Hoyle has been called all these things but who is he really?

Now that we are neck-deep in drag queens on our screens, it is not unusual for the mainstream media to label any cross-dresser with a novel angle as “original” but there has been no-one quite like David Hoyle for decades. A new photobook by Holly Revell gives us new and refreshing insights into one of the truly seminal drag performers around.

Very little about Hoyle can be described as conventional. Born in Blackpool in 1962, he was bullied for being gay and had a mental breakdown when he was just 14. Hoyle moved into performance and, by his early thirties, had built up a following as The Divine David, a controversialist who kicked out against the middle classes, the “materialistic-hedonistic gay scene” and that which he considered heteronormative. Over the Nineties, he found new platforms for his acerbic character, appearing on the BBC’s Comedy Nation and in two star vehicles for Channel 4 (The Divine David Presents and The Divine David Heals). Here he is from that era, giving some tourists insight into London “history”.

By the end of the decade, fame took its toll and Hoyle had another mental breakdown. He returned to television in 2005, appearing in Channel 4’s Charlie Brooker comedy Nathan Barley alongside Richard Ayoade, Julian Barratt and Ben Whishaw. Since then, he has directed and acted in feature film Uncle David, represented the Avant-Garde Alliance Party in 2010’s general election, and had weekly residencies at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. He has also been in a number of one-off shows like Unplugged at Soho for which he performed a superb version of this modern classic.

Getting past the façade to see the man beneath was never going to be easy but, for her new book David Hoyle: Parallel Universe, Holly Revell has explored many aspects of this fascinating and provocative artist who has been called cabaret’s philosopher king. Over the last eight years, she has photographed him at various events both on and off stage and has compiled over 300 of the pictures into an eye-opening study of someone who is arguably this generation’s finest drag queen. Revell, who is crowdfunding funds towards this book, has also added over 25 textual artworks created by her subject specifically for this project.  Check out the illustrative examples for an idea of what to expect and see Hoyle himself later this month.

David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell
David Hoyle: Parallel Universe by Holly Revell

More information on the photobook can be found here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hollyrevell/david-hoyle-parallel-universe-a-photobook-by-holly


Review: Pam Ann’s Touch Trolley Run To Galley (20th Anniversary Tour)

Pam Ann will be touching down in London until 27 May.
Pam Ann will be touching down in London until 27 May.

8:00 PM at the Leicester Square Theatre and, with phones set to airplane mode and armrests down, it is time for veteran flight attendant-cum-comedienne Pam Ann back to cause mayhem on her 20th anniversary.

The last two decades have seen Caroline Reid as her sky-high-based alter ego, celebrating and ridiculing all that’s good, gay and glamorous about air travel. The show opens with a suitably camp recorded welcome by Alan Carr followed by a dance-along to Spice Up Your Life, featuring four on-stage “volunteer” Spice Girls picked from the audience. Mere false eyelash-flutters later, Pam is in full flight, reverting to her offensive, filthy self – imagine Bernard Manning, squeezed into a sparkly Kylie frock.

The trolley dolley lovingly talks us through the various airlines with a zeal on par with the most enthusiastic plane spotter. Much of the material centres around the largest demographic of her fan base, gay men: “I fucking hate that you queers got equality. Now you’re all married no one comes out with me anymore. I went to New York Pride and I was one of only three fuckers there!” There are tips on how to smuggle drugs through customs (“just hide your G in your Evian bottle!”), enough vulgarity to make even Joan Rivers wince (“after I’d fucked all the black men and Cubans of Miami I had an arsehole like a hippo’s yawn!”), and a ridiculing of United Airlines (“If any of you disrupt my show I’m gonna have representatives from United pull you out of the theatre feet first and smash your front teeth out!”).

There’s more than gags, though, in Pam Ann’s luggage. As in previous shows, she brings out her latest hilarious video parody; this time her target is The Great British Bake Off, with Pam digitally inserting herself in place of Mary Berry and seducing former contestant Selasi in a film short entitled “The Great British Wank Off”.

Approaching final landing, Pam Ann cranks things up a notch, as a cock-addicted, coke-addled hot mess pouring out champagne to her fans in first class. The show’s highlight occurs with a hilariously-executed trolley-dolly routine with a stick-thin Air France crew member, a horse representing British Airways (who invites guest to board via hand-written invitations), a brutally-punctual gay serving for Lufthansa and a KLM staffed entirely by lesbians. Many of the jokes stem from decades-old stereotypes, but Pam has some sharp lines about American Airlines to keep things topical.

Twenty years are a long time for any act and it shows here in places.  Some of the material feels heavily recycled, but it is done so charmingly; with her tongue planted so firmly-in-cheek, you can’t help but climb aboard.  For fans who love Pam Ann for having a bigger wig and bigger balls than any drag queen, the show is sure to leave few disappointed.

This Is Cabaret rating ★★★★★

Pam Ann: Touch Trolley Run To Galley (20th Anniversary Tour) continues at Leicester Square Theatre until 27 May 2017. More information can be found on the venue website.

 

Soho Estates Change Their Mind: New Madame Jojo’s Will Be “Something Very Different”

 

Soho Estates have announced that, when the scaffolding around the Madame Jojo’s venue eventually comes down next year, there will be “something very different”.

John James, MD of Soho Estates and Paul Raymond’s son-in-law, exclusively filled us in on the details. “Look, I’ll be honest. When we originally shuttered the place in 2015, we were secretly hoping to turn the whole block into something the area was crying out for: swanky apartments privately sold in roubles or riyads, another hummus restaurant, a sex offender community centre disguised as a sex toy emporium and a cashpoint that charged you either an arm or a leg to take your own money out.”

James has had second thoughts, though. “We brought in a firm of analysts to look at the area and right away they saw a hole in the market. It was staring us in the face the whole time yet we couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Sometimes it takes highly paid consultants with zero in the way of sartorial imagination to point out the bleeding obvious.”

The report by R. Soles favoured a commercial opportunity which had emerged over the last few years and which Soho Estates is keen to capitalise on. James continued, “the consultants pointed out that a number of LGBT venues had closed down and we all know the gays love a singsong and a bit of the old cross-dressing. There are so few places around now that the poor fellows are now resorting to using phone apps like Grindr to find love and companionship.

“Thankfully, so many of our local competitors are going to the wall that, when we get round to finally opening Jojo’s as a cabaret nightclub, it will be something of a novelty in Soho. And where better than a venue which used to have great variety, drag and burlesque nights before it became an expensive and dark drinking den with occasional stage entertainment.”

The new Madame Jojo’s is scheduled to open in 2018.

Be Upstanding For Our Alternative Christmas Message From Lolo Brow

Last Christmas, we gave you our heart*. This Christmas, we have something else in mind.

Put down that mince pie, switch off the TV for a few minutes and watch this. Yes, now. We’ll keep this short as you probably have oodles to do like Snapchatting your Christmas jumper, opening that cheeky red from the banks of Lake Aldi or wondering when the Bond film will start.

2016 was a desperately sad one on the musical icon front. And the film and TV icon front. As well as the EU referendum front. Plus the US Presidential elections front. Let’s be honest: by December, we pretty much ran out of fronts to be happy about.

The good news is that Lolo Brow, London’s favourite burlesque/drag superstar, has a special message for you. Earlier this year, she won the top prize at the inaugural Burlesque Awards and, between appearances in the sell-out Family Fierce panto, she found time to make us this exclusive video. In this most tumultuous of years, she has prepared something which comes straight from the heart, the head and the liver. So what does she have to say about it all? Roll VT to find out.

* We later found out that the very next day you gave it away. Looks like we’re not the only one that is heartless.

Check out our 2013 Alternative Christmas Message from Myra DuBois


Or our 2014 Alternative Christmas Message from Holestar


Or maybe even out 2015 Alternative Christmas Message from Virgin Xtravaganzah

DENIM: “Drag Is Losing Its Political Edge.”

Formed in 2010, drag girl band DENIM has transformed from Cambridge University’s first and only professional drag troupe to an award-nominated supergroup who have toured the UK and shared the Glastonbury stage with Florence & the Machine.

Stylish, hilarious, talented and intelligent, DENIM is a tour-de-force formed by lead performer Glamrou, Crystal Vaginova, Electra Cute, Shirley du Naughty and Aphrodite Jones. We sat down with Glamrou to talk about their journey so far and their ongoing Live at Zedel residency.


How did DENIM come about? Why did you want to start a 90s girl band?

Denim started in my second year studying at Cambridge. I wanted to throw a queer club night where gender expression and deconstruction were prioritised, regardless of sexual orientation or anything like that. There was an LGBT night at the University, but I wanted to throw a night that was about creative queer expression outside of pure sexual orientation.

As for the 90s vibe: we played lots of 90s tracks in our first event and there’s something so joyfully lame about the 90s aesthetic, not least double denim (ahem!) and hilarious group choreography in the pop groups and tacky music videos. DENIM is about unadulterated joy, and the 90s aesthetic is something we’re inspired by; 90s pop artists just relished the camp pop aesthetic without fearing seeming lame, which is what we like to do.

 

What’s it like working as a group? Is it hard working with so many big personalities?

Ha! I’m afraid to bore you with a non-scandal response but we are first and foremost best friends and, as a queer collective, really believe in the power of collaborating and devising. So the big personalities all rubbing heads is part of the joy with our creative process. But of course little disagreements come about here and there, but I believe in the power of argument and “productive conflict” for opening up everyone’s perspectives collectively. We also have an incredible director Jess Edwards, and Roger Granville and his production team to help us out – so all five egos are well and truly managed by a pretty incredible team.

 

“I love our shows that don’t preach to the converted and which genuinely surprise drag sceptics in the room.”

 

DENIM is an all-singing, all dancing girl group, which is rather unusual in the drag circuit. Not to mention every member of your group have incredible voices. Do you all come from a theatre and performance background?

Aw, very kind to say! We appreciate that. It really is our aim to show that drag performances can be really skilled and well-executed to surprise people who might doubt the quality and talent of a drag show. So many people have said to us – “that’s cool that you actually sing. Wouldn’t have expected that”. I love our shows that don’t preach to the converted and which genuinely surprise drag sceptics in the room.

In terms of backgrounds: in some capacity, yes. Most of us met doing drama and music as extra-curricular activities whilst studying at Cambridge, so it is a shared interest that brought us together, but no one has been professionally trained in performance.

 

“We are very aware that we are five men thinking about femininity.”

 

You put a lot of thought and work into your performance and it seems that, whenever DENIM is on stage, you’re here to tear the house down.  Are you here to challenge mainstream drag which sometimes rely on looks and charisma?

Definitely. I have to say that I am a bit disappointed by a lot of drag out there which seems to be all about serving face, and not saying anything political. There is an infinitude of options out there for a drag queen, but our personal belief is that if you are bringing a lot of people into a queer space or story, you have to use it as some sort of action for change.

We use music and comedy and self-expression to show people a queer way of life and how it can be joyous. I get frustrated when I see drag that simply wants to replicate fashion ideals but little els. Also, we are very aware that we are five men thinking about femininity. So we don’t ever want to exploit feminine images without critical politics and reflection on what we are doing, and very much see drag as a feminist ally. Our queer female director Jess Edwards is essential to helping us keep this conversation ongoing.

 

We love that DENIM unapologetically celebrates diversity and fluidity. Is it true that two of your members are heterosexual men?

It’s true! Gender and sexuality aren’t intrinsically bound; I think both members feel genderqueer but don’t identify as so in their sexuality. It’s funny how surprising this is to people. When I’m in drag, I’m rarely ever thinking about my sexuality anyway as I quite literally cannot have sex in drag (my penis is taped away). For me, it’s all about deconstructing and playing with my gender, and not too much about sexuality.

 

Your residency at Live at Zédel is going really well, with many shows selling out. What’s the experience like?

It’s lovely that there is such a regular audience for what we are doing! And as I said earlier, I love not preaching to the converted with our shows, and it feels really rewarding when we see Zédel customers who don’t feel that comfortable with drag suddenly standing up applauding at the end of the shows. It’s like we’ve snuck in with a Trojan horse to mess things up from the inside.

 

“A lot of drag out there is losing its political edge.”

 

Like you said drag is and should be political. Your show at Zédel is about the DENIM girls running away on the Titanic after all the queer spaces in London are destroyed. Do you still have hopes for the queer scene in London?

Of course we are hopeful but it can’t be denied that queer spaces are disappearing alarmingly quickly, that there is a rise of masculine culture among gay men, and there doesn’t seem to be much collectivity in the gay community anymore (in fact, lots of internalised homophobia and racism). A lot of drag out there is also losing its political edge, which I think is symptomatic of what is happening to the gentrification of queer culture in London. My hope is that LGBT venues reclaim their queer, inclusive quality which we need now more than ever, and that queer performers around the city remember that drag has to be first and foremost political.

 

Your debut music video has been nominated for best music video at Raindance Film Festival 2016 and will be screened at Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest. Do you see yourself doing more projects like this?

We’re currently developing a visual album so lots more songs and videos are on the way. Nineties uplifting pop aesthetics are on the way!

 

There’s no stopping DENIM so what’s next? Any plans to conquer the universe soon?

We’d like to achieve intergalactic travel but before that we are extending our run at Zédel next year, taking over Vault Festival in March for a week and collaborating with lots of other queer performers. We are also doing a UK tour, as well as developing a feature film Denim drag musical as a 3 year plan.

 

DENIM are currently performing at Live at Zedel until 11 December 2016. For latest tour dates, visit their official website http://www.denim-uk.com/

Critics’ Choice: Five Cabaret Shows You Really Should See This Week

Remember, remember, November is always full of great cabaret. Forget those loud, empty bangs overhead: for real fireworks, check out these five shows.

 
TUESDAY: Meow Meow, Royal Festival Hall
The Australian siren dazzled this summer at the Brighton Fringe and in the Emma Rice-directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the RSC. This week, she is back on the South Bank in the company of piano virtuoso Thomas M Lauderdale, and trio Pink Martini and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Operatic cabaret divas are not a rarity, even in the UK, but none do it as well as Meow Meow.

1 November. Royal Festival Hall. Doors open 7:30pm. Tickets £25-45. More information


WEDNESDAY: Holly Penfield’s The Rhythm Of Life, Royal Vauxhall Tavern
Straight outta San Fran, Holly Penfield takes over the RVT for one night only as she sings a medley of her own songs interspersed with that of the iconic actress and singer Judy Garland. Penfield’s career is already five albums deep and the American songbird shows no signs of letting up on her breathtaking performances. We’ll be there as long as she promises to leave the horsewhip at home this time.

2 November. Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Doors open 8pm. Tickets £15 (reserved seating) £10 (general seating). More information


THURSDAY: Barelesque 11: Weird Science, Royal Vauxhall Tavern

A TIC favourite, Barelesque only pops up a few times a year so we recommend you grab your chance to see their shows when you can. Part kooky and kinky burlesque/variety show, part charity auction,  the show has raised thousands for the Albert Kennedy Trust making sure that homeless LGBT youth have a roof over their heads. Oh, and you get to see the awe-inspiring and award-nominated video burlesque artiste Ana Morphic and her co-founders Tallulah Van Leer and Honey Schnapps (pictured above).

3 November. Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Doors open 7pm. Tickets £10-£35. More information


FRIDAY: Jonny Woo’s Un-Royal Variety, Hackney Empire

East End drag legend Jonny Woo doesn’t do variety shows by halves. Take a look at this lot for a cast: Bourgeois & Maurice, Diane Chorley & The Buffet, Le Gateau Chocolat, Peter and Bambi Heaven, Myra Dubois and Lavinia Co-op (another drag legend in her own right).  In between acts, Woo will be presenting topical material including a 10-minute Brexit – The Musical with Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer The Opera).

4 November. Hackney Empire. Doors open 7.30pm. Tickets £10-£35. More information


FRIDAY: Peacock Butch, Resistance Gallery

Describing itself as “a new queer clubbing experience”, this collaboration between bodypainter extraordinaire Victoria Gugenheim and Lucha Britannia’s Garry Vanderhone encourages every flavour of sexuality and gender expression to come on down and flaunt their beautiful selves. There will be live performance from alt-burlesquer and make-up genius Marnie Scarlet as well as a make-up artist on hand to help put that look together.

4 November, Resistance Gallery. Doors open 9pm. £5/£3 (students/extremely fabulous creatures). More information


Image: Barelesque co-founders Ana Morphic, Tallulah Van Leer and Honey Schnapps

Review: The Prime Of Ms Hoyle, Chelsea Theatre

Taking inspiration from Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, David Hoyle’s latest show is a satiric lecture performance aiming to deconstruct education through the medium of education.

Ms Hoyle’s character is loving and charismatic like the novel’s titular character. She starts the class by greeting everyone warmly, trying to establish genuine connections with everyone in the room. Addressing us as “ladies and gentlemen, and those of you clever enough to transcend gender”, the cabaret maverick sets the radical and nonconforming overtone of the class.

There is no doubt that Ms Hoyle is a seasoned performer in the cabaret scene. She treats the students to a plethora of her talents, from improvising a song about the core values of education, to immortalising one of us in the form of an abstract chalk portrait. She also appears to be very well-read and incredibly knowledgeable. It is hard not to feel small in her class, for without knowledge of Spark’s book and the wide and varied cultural references made by our head teacher, we won’t be able to fully appreciate her ingenuity.

With confidence and fearless abandonment Ms David Hoyle treads the slippery ground between satire and pedagogy throughout the show. Setting the ground rule that conforming individuals will be thrown out of the classroom, she proceeds to throw torrents of ideas and radically liberal doctrines at her students. Sometimes she is a forward thinker, suggesting we should learn from the Finnish teaching model which values individuality and vocational training. Sometimes she is a self-proclaimed cult leader, professing her faith in Jeremy Corbyn under an alter she has made to worship him. And sometimes she is a tyrant, interrupting “Perfect Prefect” Ben (Ben Walters) in his speech when she has earlier announced that discussion and feedback are welcomed in the classroom. There are moments that feel imposing or mind-bending, but with her irresistible charm and vigour Ms Hoyle glides through unscathed.

Throughout the run, the class has the pleasure of Visiting Professors. Tonight the class is blessed by the presence of cabaret legend Penny Arcade who marks her entrance by destroying the order of the house and demanding for her turn to speak. As soon as she gets on stage, she announces that she will not be talking about education as she was asked to. Instead she offers the students her thoughts on a range of issues from her take on transgender identity, her vehement distaste of the philistine and how we should all be ourselves because in the grand scheme of things, nothing really matters. She gives the students a lot of food for thought, and leaves us to wonder if she has just challenged the effectiveness of Ms Hoyle’s teaching model, or burst wide open the possibilities of liberal learning.

Running at 2.5 hours with a mishmash of lectures, anecdotes, assignments and performance from Duckie and Carnesky graduates, the show would benefit from some editing and consolidation. More importantly, it has yet to address the million dollar question: having burned the establishment to the ground, how do we move beyond the allure of anarchy and rise from its ashes? Perhaps, this is the final assignment Ms David Hoyle leaves us with before we can graduate…

The Prime of Ms David Hoyle is playing at Chelsea Theatre at 8pm and 4pm (Sunday matinee) until Sun 25 Sep. 7 World’s End Place, King’s Road, London SW10 0DR. http://www.chelseatheatre.org.uk/

Christeene Pulls The Trigger At Soho Theatre – But Is It A Hit Or Miss?

Christeene is what nightmares are made of – a genderfuck powerhouse of terror in tatty underwear who seems to have just emerged from the sewer.

With the Soho Theatre stage bare save for hazy UV lighting and a few DIY props, the US alt-drag queen inhabits a grimy sex dungeon infused with filth and transgression. The latest show Trigger brings to the fore this artist’s formidable presence and an in-your-face aesthetic used to command the audience through terrifyingly piercing stares, extra-terrestrial screeches and angry stomps.

It is a full-on hour of sensory overload, and a germophobe’s idea of hell on earth. Spit, sweat and pints fly around the stage, body fluids are exchanged freely and the American revels in obsessive compulsive play with their body throughout. Oh, and let’s not forget the horror-inducing audience participation which ranges from being grabbed and licked to being snogged by the drag terrorist. Resistance is futile – it won’t stop you from getting the Christeene treatment.

The whole concept of Christeene defies common forms of definition. On a personal level, Christeene’s existence challenges the very meaning of drag : unpolished, untucked and underdressed, Christeene adamantly refuses to be labelled by gender pronouns. On a performance level, it would do Christeene a huge disservice to try and define the genre-defying repertoire – it’s music, it’s rap, it’s live art, it’s parody. Christeene’s performance falls into all of the above categories, but has the potential to subvert every single one of them.

Beyond the savagery and shock value, Trigger has in fact created a space (or, in Christeene’s words, “a stanky place”) that is both inclusive and transgressive. Referred to as “the boys”, the rotating cast of backup dancers represent diverging forms of masculinity and bodies that are cisgender and trans. Sometimes Christeene can be a bit of a preacher, but a pretty damn good one, so the socio-political commentaries sit nicely in the show. With a rusty voice the performer chants slogans like “a hole’s a hole”, “ride your inner pony” and “masculinity is dead”, and then hits the point home with a provocative and occasionally joyous number.

Christeene: Trigger is here to provoke and to point quite literally two big middle fingers at heteronormativity. It is the kind of show that will leave you speechless, dazed and a bit fucked up. It is something that needs to be seen and cannot be unseen. Holding the audience hostage in the bowel of filth and genderfuckery, Christeene is rearing to unleash that inner pony in every single one of us.

This Is Cabaret rating ★★★★

Christeene: Trigger is playing at Soho Theatre at 9.30pm until Sat 17 Sep. 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE. http://www.sohotheatre.com/

“Drag, Like Queerness Itself, Is Limitless”

Briefs, a recurring darling of the South Bank’s London Wonderground, opens next week with a new look. Led by the bearded beauty that is Fez Fa’anana and featuring star performer Captain Kidd (past winner of the King Of Burlesque title, as anointed by the world-renowned Burlesque Hall of Fame), the Australian all-male circus-comedy-drag extravaganza now includes James Welsby (above), a choreographer and performer working extensively in contemporary dance and cabaret.

He is already established down under where Gay News Network listed him as one of the of “25 LGBT People to Watch in 2015″.  As well as bring the founder and director of the award-winning Phantom Limbs, he has produced his own drag cabaret show Yummy. He will be taking over the slot recently vacated by Dallas Dellaforce who has retired from the show.

 

How did you come to be a part of Briefs?
I’ve been moving in similar circles as Briefs for the last few years, and I got to know the boys through arts festival contexts. I was a company dancer for seven years, and have been working in cabaret (The Burlesque Hour) and drag (across Melbourne and Berlin) for the last three, so Briefs is a perfect fit. I died and came back to life when they asked me to work with them.

 

Drag has been through a sea-change over the last decade or so, especially thanks to shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race. On the one hand, some would say that it has given drag a higher profile which has allowed queens to find space in the mainstream. Others point to the more alternative and less TV-friendly forms of drag being pushed to the margins. What’s your take?

I think the scope of drag has been blown wide open world-wide, and people have realised that drag, like queerness itself, is limitless. It can be as glamorous as it can be comic, or as other-worldly as familiar. I love RuPaul’s Drag Race so much, and I love alternative club drag too.

I think Drag Race has hosted some incredible avant garde queens as well as the gorgeous pageant girls.  My personal faves have been Manila, Yara Sofia, Milk, Alaska, Pearl, Violet, and Kim Chi. They are all very visual. I adore every RuGirl though, and they’ve each brought something different and interesting.

I like how alternative drag can abandon conventions (like tucking or ‘realness’), and can put a spin on audience expectations. Those performers play by their own rules, and don’t try to fit in, they try and stand out. My favourite club queens are Benjamin Hancock, James Andrews, Karen From Finance, Hungry, Mikey Woodbridge, and Betty Grumble. They’re all extremely visual too, and slay in the performance department. But there’s really too many to name – how much time do you have?

 

“We’re all in the margins – some just more than others.”

 

Probably not as long as you’ll need! Where do you see drag fitting into the wider world of entertainment?

Drag has always had a place in pop culture, especially throughout theatre history. Shakespeare, pantomime, musicals, late night entertainment. Drag has always been there – maybe the difference now is that drag is not relegated to comedy and pastiche. It’s found it’s feet in the art and fashion world, and people use drag to deliver design ideas and performance skills, while simultaneously breaking gender expectations.

I don’t think I’d say drag has fallen into mainstream pop culture though. Even if there is a wider audience for it, it’s a subversive art form and thrives the best in queer spaces. I still feel unsafe walking down the street in drag sometimes, because when fucking with gender norms, the world may still respond with violence. That’s our reality as queer entertainers. We’re all in the margins – some just more than others.

 

We loved the look of Yummy from what we saw in the trailer. How did that show come about and will it come to the UK at any point?
Yummy is my drag cabaret that I was working on before I joined Briefs. I’ve done seasons of it in Melbourne and Berlin. It’s an incredible mix of performers who pack a punch and bring something super colourful and edgy to the stage. It’s an inclusive mix of various drag and allied artists, and it’s really so damn fun. Right now I’m focusing on Briefs, and loving every minute of it, but perhaps Yummy will shine in the future.

 

Looking at your videos, it seems that you are a very physical performer. Would you say that was reflected in your current work for Briefs? For those who have seen only your predecessor, how would you say you differed as a performer?

I studied at The Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), specialising in contemporary dance, so that influences my work. I also do voguing and tap, so that has a presence too. Those skills are definitely reflected in my current acts with Briefs.

Dallas Dellaforce is a legendary queen, and one of my personal faves! We decided to go in a different direction with my presence in the show and focus on a different look and feel. Dallas channels the likes of Thierry Mugler, and I channel the likes of Gareth Pugh. It’s fierce in a different way.

 

Finally, are there any British drag queens you’re looking forward to seeing while you’re over here?

I saw Myra DuBois recently in Edinburgh – I love British queens so much, they always bring it! Manchester queens have been serving some seriously incredible looks, and the Sink the Pink crowd obviously have the best fun ever. I want to meet every Soho and East London Queen I can. Come at me Brits!

Briefs officially opens on 13 September with previews running from 6 September. Tickets are £17.00 (including £1 online booking fee) and can be bought from the official London Wonderground website.

 

Le Gateau Chocolat: “The Disenfranchised Need A Voice, Society Needs A Mirror, Governments Need To Be Held Accountable”

To call Le Gateau Chocolat a unique individual may be the understatement of the century. The larger-than-life alt-drag bass singer who turned down a career in law has trotted the globe with the Olivier Award-winning La Soiree, raised the roof with barnstorming Spiegeltent shows, movingly revealed the intimate details of his life in BLACK and paid tribute to his favourite stars in new show ICONS.

He’s also shown he can play well with others. His A Night at the Musicals with East End drag legend Jonny Woo debuted at the Adelaide Festival earlier this year but has been seen before and after around London at venues as diverse as thriving gay pub The Glory and upmarket pizza parlour basement The Pheasantry. This year has also seen him step onto the National Theatre stage in the latest version of Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera.

Next week will see him in a very different environment, that of Latitude Festival (14-17 July). He will be appearing there as part of Soho Theatre’s contribution to the cabaret tent which also features dysfunctional magicians Peter & Bambi  Heaven, alt-dragster Christeene, singer Bridget Everett and comedian Sam Campbell.

We spoke to him as he prepares to entertain Latitude’s wellied masses.


You have had your fingers quite a few pies over the last year, not least ICONS, A Night At The Musicals, La Soiree, The Threepenny Opera and, this summer, your appearance at the Latitude Festival. Apart from filthy lucre, what draws you to a particular project or show?

Sometimes it was the opportunity to work with another artist. With A Night At The Musicals it was Jonny Woo and with ICONS, it was Marty Hailey, musical director extraordinaire.

It’s also important for me to explore new platform and new stages. At the National, I had the opportunity to grow as an artist and extend my audience reach while BLACK gave me the chance to work with the orchestra Psappha Ensemble.

There are so many considerations to be made when making decisions. For instance, there was a spring tour booked for BLACK; Dundee, Manchester, Adelaide but the opportunity to play on the the National stage, in the much respected Threepenny Opera with (National Theatre Artistic Director) Rufus Norris at the helm was too good to miss. Thankfully the presenters from all the respective venues and festivals agreed and were conscientious enough to release and reschedule the project.

 

“It’s incumbent on the performer to help people forget, dream, imagine, feel.”

 

A festival tent is not your usual theatrical space. How do you modify your performance to that kind of environment?

Firstly, by not making a fringe or tent show but by always committing to make the best show you can at the point of its inception.

Yes, some of my repertoire is better suited to black box or theatrical environments but my first show, for instance, played both the Bosco tent at Brighton Fringe and the theatre at Menier Chocolate Factory. It’s incumbent on the performer to assemble the ingredients necessary to help people forget, dream, imagine, feel, be entertained from lights to dramaturgical considerations – all these story telling tools must never be undermined.

Also, I think there is currency to be had in relishing the juxtaposition of high art in low places or vice versa. Doing the running man with Sharlene from Basement Jaxx looking like a loofah sponge on the Barbican stage was simply heaven.

 

When not on stage, will you be gadding about the festival or will this just be a flying visit?

I think it might be a flying visit though Jonny Woo has just asked if I might be interested in a singing with the Glory presentation. I think Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer: The Opera) might be on piano and I love him. He’s hilarious.

 

“Going beyond one’s comfort zone breeds an exponential growth and learning that can’t be taught.” 

 

Kurt Weill, who provided the music to The Threepenny Opera, was encouraged by his parents and tutors to go down a more elitist and traditional career path yet he felt that music should be something enjoyed by all. Should classically-trained artists be encouraged to go beyond their comfort zone and reach out to the public?

After not taking up a place at Guildhall and being subsequently rejected by the Royal Academy, not thinking laterally was imperative.

The operatic stages are seldom peopled by minorities and as I much as I love the art form, it does nothing to encourage or inspire me to pursue it, for it becomes an exhausting enterprise but that’s a much longer conversation.

Imagine the time when I could’ve taken my niece, in the Seventies at the Met, to see Leontyne Price sing Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly? Incredible. In that vein, rather wonderful to read of Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s Young Musician of the Year win.  Going beyond one’s comfort zone breeds an exponential growth and learning that can’t be taught.

 

What is the role, then, for the government or the academies in realising an artist’s potential? 

Whether there’s a “happy ever after” is often down to all three of the government, the academies and most importantly, the artist. Not everyone who train is going to be working at the opera house or ENO or Opera North etc but it doesn’t mean one is a failure.

There are so many avenues to explore. And I think seeds of industriousness should be planted by academies to encourage to dream big but with tenaciousness and variety.  I think the government have an important role to play but that’s a much bigger conversation and certain not with jokes like Nicky Morgan as the minister for education downgrading the important of arts in our society in praise of STEM subjects.

 

“The disenfranchised need a voice, society needs a mirror, governments need to be held accountable.”

 

The classical arts are still very much perceived as something done by and for the white middle classes, chiefly in London. Would you say that was an accurate description? Do you see this ever changing? 

It very much is. I have only ever experienced a truly diverse audience at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool. A little at the Albany but everywhere else, it’s been mostly as you describe: white middle class.

Even at Edinburgh Fringe. That said, being in the audiences of both Amen Corner at the National and In the Heights was really thrilling as they were very mixed. I will say, it has been extraordinary rehearsing at the National at the moment; The Flick, The Suicide, Le Blanc, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom– all playing.

There’s a comfort, an encouraging comfort that comes from that level of diversity. And hopefully, the programming reaches out to different communities and showcases the very concept that theatre and art is for everybody.

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” said Banksy. Never a truer word said. The disenfranchised need a voice, society needs a mirror, governments need to be held accountable. Voices are found, developed and amplified with the support of public arts funding. The importance of which should never be undermined or over estimated.

We live in a world where Idris Elba is “too street” to play Bond. A black Hermione despite approval from the author J.K. Rowling, breeds such outrage. Again, I think there’s a much bigger conversation here. I take the responsibility of this platform very seriously, we could talk about this for hours but whilst the conversation needs to be had, one must continue to seek different avenues and platforms to show work.

 

Do you think the shrinking purse of public arts funding will encourage or restrict artists from alternative backgrounds breaking through?

BLACK was created with such funds. Duckie, who I working with, was unfortunately unsuccessful in its bid but was thankfully still workshopped with the kind support of Colchester Arts Centre, the Wolsey Theatre and Norwich Arts Centre. Restricting this funding or constant cuts to it will mean whole communities might not be heard and the privileged remain de riguer.

 

 

Where can people see you after Latitude Festival?

I’m at The Threepenny Opera at the National till September, ICONS in soho theatre at some point this year, Duckie, a new family show being discussed as a Christmas run at the Southbank, BLACK will be at the Dublin Theatre Festival followed by an autumn tour somewhere in London.

Failing all of that, there for the travelling amongst you (should this materialise, I might actually die) Wagner’s Tannhauser in, wait for it, Bayreuth!

Latitude Festival takes place this year from Thursday 14-Sunday 17 July.