Queer Lates || Drag Show Review #9
I am, for once, speechless. I don’t have enough words to describe how incredible the inaugural Queer Lates was last night, but I’m going to give it a good go anyway because I had the absolute best time.
Held at the gorgeous Stratford East Theatre, Queer Lates is a night that hopefully there will be many, many more of, and had one of the best lineups of London talent I have ever seen. I say London, Kate Butch and Dolly Trolley are both from Yorkshire, but we won’t hold that against them. Anyway. Queer Lates. A fantastic safe space filled with performers of all kinds, all coming together to create performance magic.
The lineup consisted of (and here I will try and name everyone without looking at the poster): Rhys’ Pieces - who hosted, Chiyo, Benjamin Butch, Rubyyy Jones, Freida Slaves, Kate Butch, and the gals of Gals Aloud (minus Tayce) - Ophelia Love, Kitty Scott-Claus, HERR, Margo Marshall, and Seriah Sis who stood in for Cheryl Hole who was in Disneyland. Kate Butch and Dolly Trolley also provided pre-show entertainment in the bar, which mostly consisted of a variety of vegetables, Dolly’s ass tassels, making couture out of bog roll, and Wuthering Heights.
Dolly Trolley is, by the way, one of the funniest performers I have seen in a while and the perfect choice to get the audience and randoms who happened to be in the bar ready for the show. Starting with a fierce dance to a song I don’t know because it’s not Schindler's List, she quickly brought the mood up - before getting into some audience participation. Who loves audience participation? Almost no-one. Was it funny anyway? Yes. Yes it was. Bringing six unfortunate souls to the stage, Dolly split them into two groups and announced that two stylists on each team would have to create a wedding outfit on the model, made entirely out of toilet roll while Dolly lipsynced to that song from Eurovision that had the same sex kiss. The prize for the winners? A mystery gift from the mystery Sainsburys bag - a broccoli. Encouraging the kids to eat their five a day? Inspired.
There was also the iconic macarena-off for another mystery prize - going from normal macarena, to double speed macarena, to quadruple speed macarena. How Dolly kept it up, I will never be entirely sure. Possibly witchcraft, possibly the magic of the ass tassels. And how could anyone forget the carrot lipsync - a lipsync to Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, done with carrot microphones. I think I still have a bit of a carrot that Dolly snapped off in my pocket. Dolly also did the mid-show entertainment, otherwise known as making the audience do finger and hand dances to the can-can. Quite frankly, not normal.
We were also lucky enough to be treated to Kate Butch’s rendition of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, which is one of my favourite things any queen has ever done. Kate not only sings the song beautifully, but also mimes entering through several different iterations of windows - sash, normal, french, you name it, she’s gone through it - and also shows us how Wuthering Heights would sound if it was actually sung in a Yorkshire accent. The verdict? Hilarious.
And then it was time to take our seats in the auditorium. Dress circle, front row, delicious view, was slightly terrified I would end up plunging over the waist high barrier. Irrational, but anxiety provoking nonetheless.
Rhys’ Pieces - our host for the evening - took to the stage in fishnets, sparkly red fire leotard with dangly fringe, and red top hat and proceeded to do some rapping. Yes, I am a grandma at heart with no idea what the youth of today like but will happily applaud and cheer them on anyway with all the vigour of someone forty years younger. I digress. Rhys’ rapping was fabulous, and he had on the most stunning pair of red heeled boots, and it was an all round treat for the very first number of the show. I’ve been lucky enough to see Rhys’ Pieces perform before, and they never fail to absolutely blow me away. They are also a fantastic host, and by that I mean they just prance around the stage, make everyone clap, and make everyone laugh. What more could you want?
Rhys’ Pieces second number, later on in the show, had a very different feel to the fierce rapping they came out with first. Naked except for a pair of pants, they came onto stage being held at the neck by a white man in a suit with a cane. What came next was one of the most powerful pieces of dance I’ve been lucky enough to witness for a very long time. I don’t know the name of the song, but it was poignant for what was clearly a number about slavery, and ended with Rhys’ taking the cane from the suited man and throwing it away. The fluidity of Rhys’ movement was utterly beautiful, and the audience was captivated and silent from the beginning. A truly powerful piece, and I could have watched Rhys’ Pieces dance all day.
Rubyyy Jones was our first performer, and what a delight and a treat she was. A stalwart of the London scene, and a burlesque artist who is extremely well established (and for good reason, she’s utterly fabulous and incredible) and has taught many a performer the art of burlesque. Taking to the stage in a divine blue frothy floor length jacket and feathered headband, Rubyyy proceeded to proclaim that the world needs more love! Because it’s so shit! And then proceeded to sing about sex, and take her clothes off. Well, it was better than that utterly awful description, but you get the gist. She sang about such acts as fisting, and tore off the long jacket to reveal sparkly nipple tassels and matching thong, and it was just incredible. She has such stage presence that she could literally stand there for half an hour, doing absolutely nothing, and I would enjoy it. Side note: seeing someone with a similar body type to mine, up on the stage where I’ve longed to be since I left it, and looking so good in what is essentially nothing did absolute wonders for my confidence. God bless Rubyyy Jones, long may she be performing.
Chiyo was up next. I think. I don’t remember the order at this point, but we’ll go with it. Anyway. Chiyo. I love Chiyo, and am lucky to be able to count them as a friend - but they are also one of the most powerful performers I have ever had the pleasure of seeing light up the stage. Exhibit A: their solo performance. Tackling the subject of mental health, which we are not strangers to here on cordeliamoor.com, Chiyo takes to the stage and alternates between lipsyncing the powerful Car Radio song by twenty one pilots, and a song about being ‘happy’ and ‘wonderful’ with an upbeat tune behind it - but every time the happy song comes back, Chiyo’s demeanor gets further and further away from being ‘happy’, until they end up with a noose in their hands. Chills. I get chills every time. They are truly, truly incredible.
Going from mental health to Peppa Pig, Kate Butch came on stage next. Dressed as Peppa. With a kids radio held on her shoulder. And then proceeded to do her number all about Peppa Pig. Talk about a fucking roller coaster, I could barely keep my emotions in check, having gone from awed to hysterical in about 0.5 seconds flat. Dabbing her way through the song, Kate interspersed soundbites from Peppa Pig with songs like Hello and that cell phone song, before ripping open a packet of Percy Pigs from M&S and throwing them into the audience. Completely insane, completely hilarious, I enjoyed every second of it and will quite frankly never tire of Kate doing Peppa.
Next: Frieda Slaves. Big hair, bigger performance, biggest bum. She is incredible. This was the first time I’d gotten to see Freida, and I was completely blown away and felt more than a little sorry for the performers who had to follow her each time. Again - could not tell you the songs she performed to if I tried. Tell a lie, she definitely did Beyonce Run The World in her second performance. Even I know that song, and I bloody love it. With the staging, and the lights, and her sheer command of the stage, every second Frieda was up there was absolute magic. I mean, it was a big stage, and Frieda is just one woman. Even if she isn’t a small one. But she managed to make every single inch of that stage hers, and it was utter joy to behold.
Benjamin Butch. I love Benjamin Butch. He’s an incredible drag king, and this performance just cements why. Cements. Making puns, because he came out dressed as a builder. See where I went?! Anyway, back to Ben. Clad in rhinestoned overalls which, quite frankly, should be standard uniform for builders around the country, Benjamin took to the stage and began performing to a song which - all together now - I have no idea the name of. Anyway. As in any good burlesque performance, there was stripping and cheering and soundbites about the menstrual cycle. That’s right. An incredible drag king, doing a piece about quite frankly how shit it is to bleed once a month from the downstairs department, finishing dressed only in a rhinestoned hi-vis harness and string hanging. Absolutely incredible in every single way.
We were also lucky enough to have the double act of Chiyo and Benjamin perform, and there was definitely more than one person hot under the collar after the stripping duo had left. Starting out in red blazers, shorts, and black and white shirts, the two teased and titillated the audience, removing each article of clothing piece by piece before finishing in sheer underwear. It was, quite frankly, brilliant. I don’t know what song they performed to, but quite honestly I was distracted by the burlesque act on stage. Sue me, I’m only human.
The show ended with half an hour of Gals Aloud. I have banged on about Gals Aloud more than once before, but I love them. Ophelia Love as Nicola, Kitty Scott-Claus as Kimberly, HERR as Nadine, Margo Marshall as Sarah, and Seriah Sis standing in for Cheryl Hole as Cheryl. Camp, hilarious, and I’m not going to say entirely too much about it because this review is long enough already, none of them need their egos stroking any further, and I’m seeing Gals Aloud twice more this month so there will be a proper, full review coming towards the end of November.
Needless to say, they were brilliant. Their new costumes were camp, Phi has never looked prettier than she did in that ginger hair, and everything about it is just inspired. They were all just so beautiful that it is a little obscene, and quite frankly none of them had the right to look so good. I have no words for how much I love Gals Aloud, and every single member contained therein and thereout. Even when things do (inevitably) go tits up, and HERR has to hold on to her hair when doing a hair flip. Pretty sure Kitty’s hair nearly went flying too. And HERR’s popper came undone. And Ophelia broke a broom. It was chaos of the very best kind, and Margo embodies the spirit of Sarah a little too well. Girls Aloud songs are camp at the best of times, and Gals Aloud just take it that one step further where no-one really asked them to go, but we all have a great time anyway and finish, audience on their feet, singing and clapping along.
All in all - Queer Lates was the kind of queer magic I need more of in my life. It was beautiful. It was incredible having all manner of different performers in one space, doing what they do best - whether that be rapping, dancing, Beyonce, burlesque, or paying homage to one of the greatest girl bands of our time. I can only hope there’s another Queer Lates soon.
P..S - All the gorgeous, stunning photos in this piece were taken by the incredible Tim Abbott. Isn’t it amazing to have proper photography?! He’s a wonderful guy, and has just started up a new instagram to share the photos he takes of the scene. I’ve linked it above, but I’ll link it again - @thelocalscene. And you can find Tim on his personal insta, @timabbott