Drag queen, Felicity at The Imperiall Hotel

Mardi Gras

“I’m running late. The bus was late, but I’ll be there shortly”, I told a friend by text message.

I haven’t really participated much in this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, so we had planned to catch up for a beer and a bit of “Mardi Gras” spirit at Sydney’s legendary Imperial Hotel. “I think Sunday afternoon is the best option. And as the Imperial is about to turn straight, maybe we should meet there for their Sunday afternoon retro session” a friend told me in am email. “Turning straight? Just like all my exboyfriends”, I joked in reply.

But as I arrived at Erskineville, Graeme said, “It’s closed”. Instantly that brought back memories of that day in November 2007 when we had planned to meet at The Newtown Hotel, only to discover the bar had closed suddenly. Thankfully, that wasn’t repeated at The Imperial, just a later opening time than advertised.

What a relief. Because we had a lovely afternoon of chatting, listening to music, and enjoying the comic ramblings of the resident drag queen, Felicity.

In this modern world of online relationships, Grindr, and the like I hope there’s still room for “gay bars”. I think it’s fantastic that (in the inner city at least) it’s all okay for gays and straights to socialise in the same bars. I think it’s fantastic that male or female couples can, by and large, show affection to each other without retribution. Obviously that’s not the case in many locations, but most definitely in the inner-city part of Sydney in which I live. But still there are times when it’s nice to be with “my people” and to share a sense of community.

That’s also how I feel about Mardi Gras. Even though I didn’t participate much this year, I think it’s really important that it continues to exist. Even if we achieve full equality in my lifetime (and that’s possible), I still think it’s good to have these moments of individual community celebration. Even if there’s equality, it shouldn’t mean mean everyone’s the same.

Matthew Mitcham CD

Twists and Turns – Matthew Mitcham

I think Matthew Mitcham is stalking me. I wish. On Tuesday we jockeyed for position in the coffee queue at the ABC cafe, ahead of his appearance on Midday Interview with Margaret Throsby. This afternoon, he was in the reception of 702 ABC Sydney, ahead of his appearance on “Thank God It’s Friday”. “I loved your show last night”, I told him.

Indeed I did. He has a cabaret show – songs, stories, acrobatics – based on his autobiography, which I read a couple of years ago. At the time, I observed how amazing and complex was his life story, moving me in many ways.

As I read about his early years in Brisbane, I couldn’t help but be connected to his story. “Oh my goodness, he lived around the corner from my aunt”, I noticed. And the gay bar he went to where they allowed him in as an underage patron? I’d been there too. With a good cultural knowledge of Brisbane, I knew instantly where that was, even though he failed to name it (for obvious legal reasons). I’d also been an under-age entrant to a gay bar in Brisbane many, many years ago. I was fifteen at the time, and was accompanied by a slightly older friend. Not much older, but old enough to be able to whisper in the ear of the bouncer and guarantee me entry. Twenty years later, and it seems little had changed when Matthew found himself in a similar position. Unlike Matthew, however, I was never accompanied by my mother.

His mother was in the audience at last night’s show, along with his diving coach, and seemingly, several hundred of his closest friends because there was a lot of love in the room. There were lots of people who have obviously followed his story ever since Beijing, which, by contrast I completely missed, as I backpacked my way through Europe at the time.

Matthew’s quite a good singer, with a reasonable vocal range, and with dramatic qualities, brings life to a range of songs, many written for the show, along with others such as “True Faith” by “New Order”. He’s also a talented story-teller, and displays a charming self deprecating sense of humour. One of the highlights was a mood-lighting re-enactment of his perfect 10 dive at Beijing, accompanied by Matthew singing a rather haunting song.

At the end of the show there was a 15 minute or so Q&A session. He was asked whether or not he would be going to any of the Mardi Gras parties. “Oh no, I don’t know how to party safely”, he told the audience, showing a greater level of self-awareness than I did at that age.

After the Q&A everyone wandered outside for selfies with Matthew, and for the purchase of a range of signed merchandise. A fun evening was had by all.

Charlie Hides as Cher

Charlie Hides

Charlie Hides has one of the funniest live shows I’ve seen in ages. He’s an English comedian – though originally from the United States – who dresses up and impersonates (with humour and affection) some of the great modern pop divas, including Cher, Madonna and Lady GaGa.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been enthusiastically sharing his Youtube videos with friends. The first one that made me laugh was a sketch about the apparent rivalry between Madonna and Lady GaGa. Since then, he’s gone on to incorporate a bunch of other characters including Lana Delray, Joan Rivers and others with the same level of affection and humour. Unlike many other comedians, I don’t think there’s anything nasty or malicious behind his humour.

In the last year or so he’s been doing live shows in London, and I’ve read about this development with a sense of longing and wonder. “There has to be a lot of video in his live shows to achieve what he does”, I whispered to Graeme in the minutes before his live show at Sydney’s “Gingers” began. There is. There are also lots of costumes changes, and a comedy routine which continues to shock and surprise over the course of about ninety minutes. He works hard.

The comedy of his live show was far more cutting edge, and definitely less politically correct, than you see on the Youtube clips. Overall it was a fantastic night which we both enjoyed very much. Hopefully he’ll be back for Mardi Gras again next year.

Photographer - Unsure, but looks like a theatre publicity shot. Happy to credit if I can find out the photographer.

Privates On Parade

“Meet the gang cos the boys are here, the boys to entertain you…” Nearly forty years after having first watched “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”, the 1970s BBC sit-com, I can still remember and sing-a-long with the opening theme song.

Having spent most of my formative years just a few feet away from a 26″ Chrysler colour TV, it’s no surprise. Along with “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”, there was a steady regular Friday night television diet courtesy of the ABC which included Dave Allen, The Two Ronnies and “The Trots”. And when I say “The Trots”, I mean trotting. Horses. Yes its true. Every Friday night, ABC TV in NSW (and probably elsewhere) used to regularly feature live coverage of trotting. They might have been done “The Dogs” also, though I don’t have that memory.

Yes it was a different world back then. Although it wasn’t evident to my young eyes, I’m sure if you looked closely at “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” these days, there would be more than a hint of racism. I don’t think I will. But going to see “Privates On Parade” has re-ignited in me an interest in some of those BBC comedies of my youth.

The subject matter of “Privates On Parade” is similar to “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”: both are based around the activities of a 1940s English Army Entertainment Troop. Although I’m sure the original play was the basis for the television show, the subject matter of the play is much darker, dealing openly with homosexuality (whereas it was only really hinted at in the TV show), and with death.

I thought the production by New Theatre (as part of Mardi Gras) was excellent. It’s a well written play (of course), though perhaps a little dated. so the company had good material to start with. While there could have been a propensity to ham things up a little, I thought the company did an excellent job in playing it straight, and allowing for the depth of the characters to show.

Dawn O'Donnell - still taken from movie trailer

Croc-a-Dyke Dundee

Years ago I remember watching a really fantastic documentary about the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras called, Feed Them to the Cannibals. As I recall, the title was a reference to the words of an Australian government official, who was asked what he thought should be done with those engaging in homosexual behaviour in the early days of European settlement here.

For me, that 1993 film was also an introduction to the larger-than-life character of Dawn O’Donnell, the subject of the movie I saw tonight, Croc-a-Dyke Dundee. For many years, a friend and I developed quite a routine between ourselves, as we remembered and laughed about some of the classic lines delivered by Dawn in that early film.

Co-incidentally both films were made by the same person, Fiona Cunningham-Reid. At tonight’s screening she mentioned how she had asked Dawn many years ago if she would participate in a follow-up documentary about her own life story. For many years, Dawn and her partner, Aniek Baton both refused.

At the Q&A session which followed tonight’s screening, Aniek explained what finally brought her around, was recognition the telling the story of Dawn’s life goes some way to telling the history of Gay & Lesbian life in Sydney in the last fifty years or so.

That said, the film also gives a really lovely insight into her life before she became a nightclub owner on Oxford Street. The film explains she was the daughter of a single parent, growing up in Sydney in reasonably rough circumstances, until she was sent to a convent school to “smooth off the edges”. She had an early passion for ice-skating, which eventually took her to live in both London and Paris, until an accident cut short her career.

On returning to Australia she married a man which, in the film she says, “lasted for about two months”.The film then goes on to explain how she made her career mostly in real estate, and then later in nightclubs.

The film doesn’t shy away from the more suspect parts of Dawn’s life. The film talks about her connections with the convicted criminal, Abe Saffron; the many allegations of nightclub arson; and even the suggestion she murdered someone. The film offers no new evidence on any of these allegations, but that’s okay, it wasn’t that type of film.

For me the really interesting insight into Dawn’s life, of course, came from Aniek, Dawn’s partner. They were together thirty years, and it sounds like they had an amazing series of adventures together, particularly the travel. Dawn died five or six years ago, and Aniek was left out of the will. At tonight’s screening she said she was still involved in a complex legal battle tonight which was “ongoing and private”.

Though the film wasn’t as ground-breaking and as memorable for me as “Feed Them To The Cannibals”, I really enjoyed it. I hope one day it will get a television screening as well.

Rainbow Footpath on Sydney's Oxford Street

Loreen Made Me Come Out

They’ve painted a rainbow pedestrian crossing at Sydney’s Taylor Square to celebrathe Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. Apparently it cost a lot of money, and thus it’s been controversial according to the newspapers today. I have no idea if the story is true or not, and therefore have no valid opinions on the matter.

But I will say it was rather charming to walk across a rainbow pedestrian crossing tonight, and I rather enjoyed watching other people do the same thing, even if I did worry for a moment about the possibility of accidents, as people seemed to spend far too much time pausing and having their photograph taken, and not enough time crossing the street.

The reason I wandered to Oxford Street tonight was the hope for a brief glimpse of Swedish singer, Loreen. She won the Eurovision Song Contest last year, and is in Sydney for Mardi Gras. Late this afternoon I received an email indicating she would be at the Mardi Gras pop-up shop tonight, and would be signing autographs etc. On closer inspection, I noticed it was only possible if you had a ticket to the Mardi Gras Party.

Frankly, I’d rather poke a blunt stick in my own eye than go to Mardi Gras, these days. Although I was once an active participant in all the Mardi Gras festivities, and still support them strongly “in principle”, I feel that most of what’s on offer now is “just not my thing”. I find both the parade and party too crowded, and also dislike the party drug culture. It’s a decade since I’ve been to the party, and I only occasionally wander down to the parade now, so maybe things have changed? I suspect not.

Even tonight as I wandered down to Oxford Street, I was a little overwhelmed by the crowd. And it’s the night BEFORE Mardi Gras, not the actual night itself.

But the possibility of seeing a brief glimpse of Loreen tonight got me out of the house. I didn’t see her, because there’s absolutely no way I was going to pay a huge amount of money for a Mardi Gras ticket, even if I could have resold it later. Just too much effort, I thought, and at the end of the day I concluded I’d rather see her at Melodifestivalen in Stockholm next week. My flight leaves Monday at 9.00pm.

This, by the way, is my favourite all time performance by her at last year’s Gay Gala in Stockholm. This looks like much more my kind of scene…

Swedish parliament

Fyra år till – Four more years

Having seen Au Pair, Kansas the other day and all of its faux Swedish-ness, it was great to see a real Swedish film, as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival.

“Fyra år till” (Four More Years) tells the story of two Swedish male politicians with contrasting lives and viewpoints who fall in love. From the right-leaning Folkpartiet, there is David who is thought of as a potential future Swedish Prime Minister. From the left-leaing, Socialdemokraterna there is Martin who also has a bright future ahead of him as Party Chairman. The contrasts between the two are further emphasised by the fact that Martin is completely out as a gay man, while David is a fairly closeted man who is actually married to a woman. She knows he is gay, but doesn’t seem to mind, since they have politics as a common interest.

It’s a classic love story in many ways, as you see the two come together, fall apart, and all the while you’re hoping they’ll end up together by the end of the film.

It was a good film which my friend and I both enjoyed very much, particularly with all of the very specific Swedish cultural references which we both laughed out loud to, but which may have gone slightly over the heads of a few of those attending.

At one point, for example, David asks Martin how many men he has slept with. Although I can’t remember the exact wording of his very funny answer, he replies by equating the figure to the number of seats held by the different political parties in the Swedish parliament. It would be like saying, more than the Greens, but not as much as the National Party (or something like that).

There’s also an ongoing reference to the 1980s/1990s Swedish pop band, Ratata. I guess the closest equivalent would be Savage Garden. Ratata and Mauro (the lead singer) provide the soundtrack to the film, which was enjoyable, as I like their work very much.

One of the really terrific things about the film was the role of David was played by Björn Kjellman. He’s one of Sweden’s best known actors, and who I first became familiar with from his role as a transexual in the film, Livet är en schlager (Life is a pop song), which was a wonderful film about an “ordinary” woman who wins the the Melodifestivalen, the Swedish finals which lead to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Björn has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Melodifestivalen, and was actually a contestant in 2006. I think he and I could become good friends.