Duckie at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, London SE11

A Life in Three Acts – Bette Bourne

Duckie at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, London SE11
Duckie at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, London SE11

“OMG, I’ve been there”, I whispered in the ear of my friend, as an image of the The Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London flashed on the screen. We were sitting watching the play, “A Life in Three Acts” at the Sydney Theatre Company this afternoon.

Even a couple of hours before going to see the play I had little idea of what it was about. My friend had obtained tickets and invited me because she thought it was something I might enjoy. She had only described the play as being “about some old poof going on about his life”.

The old poof in question (and I use the phrase poof with affection, not in a negative way) was Bette Bourne. Although I’d never heard of Bette until today’s play, I’ve since learned Bette (who was born Peter Bourne in 1939) is a British actor, drag queen and equal rights activist. Bette, by the way, seemed to prefer the use of the word “queen” to describe gay men.

In essence, the play is a monologue/conversation where Bette, aged seventy-one recounts his life story through a series of questions posed by another actor on stage, Mitchell Butel. The format for the play took the style of a scripted, though perhaps also occasionally ad-libbed, television chat show. For the most part, Mitchell sat there listening intently and occasionally asking a question. As a piece of theatre, it was actually quite low-key.

Throughout the afternoon we learned of Bette’s early interest and involvement in mainstream English rep theatre, his “politicisation” through early involvement in the Gay Liberation Front in LONDON, his life in a commune (he left when the drugs became too much), his relocation to New York and his contact with Quentin Crisp. In some ways, Bette has become a Quentin Crisp-like figure with his clever one-liners and insightful observations about life. He was also dressed in what he described today as “Double Bay drag”. He didn’t look disimilar to Miriam Margolyes and Germaine Greer, I said at interval.

Although the play goes for close to 2.5 hours (including a 15-20 minute interval), neither of us felt it dragged on for too long. In fact, it was a very pleasant, well-timed way to spend the afternoon. Obviously the subject matter won’t appeal to everyone, but I quite enjoyed it, and would recommend it if you have an interest in gay history, but also if you like to hear someone who is a good story teller, and willing to put themselves out on the life.

And for just a brief moment, today, I was fondly reminded of a great night from my trip to London in 2008 when we visited Duckie at The Royal Vauxhall Hotel. It was a fun night back then, and it was interesting to discover today the pub has such a long history as a gay venue.

After the play we headed out for a bite to eat and a drink. Combined with a few hours at work this morning, it’s been a really enjoyable Sunday, though also exhausting.

Kate Croll in lights at Sydney Museum

Name in Lights

Kate Croll in lights at Sydney Museum
Kate Croll in lights at Sydney Museum

It’s not a very good photograph, is it? If you squint hard enough, though, you might be able to recognise the name “Kate Croll“. Along with myself, Kate’s name has been “up in lights” as part of a project that’s part of the Sydney Festival.

According to the associated festival blurb…

Iconic American conceptual artist John Baldessari is looking for people, who want their name in lights, but just for 15 glittering seconds. Your Name in Lights reflects the changing cult of celebrity in modern society and recalls Andy Warhol’s prediction that in the future everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame. Drawing on imagery from Broadway theatre displays and Hollywood films, this ambitious new work will involve more than 100,000 participants. Register your name and watch it appear in lights on the Australian Museum’s William Street façade.

Although I was awake at the time my name was up in lights, at about 5.40 this morning, I couldn’t be arsed getting out of bed as I’m not a “morning person”. I much preferred to be in the vicinity of Colleage Street at about 11.00 tonight, however to capture Kate’s name. Kate was able to watch online from Newcastle and seemed to capture the moment better from the web than I could with my camera phone from a few metres away. Ah well, never mind.

It was a fun, engaging project to see in real life, however as I watched the names scroll over. I even saw the name of another Kate – also from Wagga – which flashed briefly on the screen. As I watched the names flash by and attempted to get the perfect photograph lots of people stopped by to watch, ask if my name was going to be there soon, and would I like a photograph. So yeah, a fun project, with lots of engagement on many levels.

Emmylou Harris at Sydney Festival Opening Night

Festival First Night

“She looks a bit bored”, my friend Kate said to me, referring to the expression on the face of Emmylou Harris, as she performed tonight at Sydney Festival First Night. I’m not a huge fan of Emmylou Harris, but I was keen to see her perform. I thought she looked more like Deborah Harry, actually. To be honest, I was a little disappointed. She didn’t really seem all that excited to be here. I thought she was going through the motions, though I could be wrong.

At the risk of being seen as highly parochial, I actually enjoyed the Ruby Hunter tribute more. Although not entirely familiar with her output, I have a strong memory of interviewing Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach many years ago when I was doing the Morning Show on ABC Radio in the Riverland in South Australia in the early 90s. I don’t remember much about the interview, except that I remember Ruby was originally from the Riverland, and I think that’s why I interviewed her.

Ruby was a tremendous songwriter, with many of her songs focussed on her homeland on the Murray River, and her Aboriginality. There was everything from beautiful songs about the water to almost-angry songs about domestic violence. Tonight’s opening night at Sydney Festival was a really enjoyable evening, as they paid tribute to Ruby who died several months ago. The highlights? For me, Tiriki Onus was fantastic, Dan Sultan was way sexy, and it was great to see Tiddas back together.

Mary MacKillop statue at St Marys Cathedral in Sydney
Mary MacKillop statue at St Marys Cathedral in Sydney

Kate and I had enjoyed a lovely day together with started with lunch at Red Chilli. We had been there once before, about twelve months ago, and had enjoyed the food very much. The food we had today was not disimilar to the food we enjoyed together in Beijing a few months ago, though not as chilli hot. There’s a pork dish we had today which I can’t recall the name of which I enjoyed very much. And there’s a wonderful chilli chicken dish which is just spectacular. Twelve months ago I thought it was too hot. I had it in Beijing. And then today, I thought it was quite mild. Either way, I thought Red Chilli was a great place for lunch and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

In between that and Sydney Festival, Kate and I wandered around the city for a while. And then we went and bought some socks and razor blades for my friend who is currently in hospital. The socks weren’t so important to him, as the razor blades. We had a conversation on Thursday about how the Mach 3 by Gillette was probably the world’s best razor blade. He’s been struggling with some cheapies, and asked if I could get him some “real blades”. As soon as he mentioned the Mach 3, I knew immediately what he meant. Other blades hack your face to pieces. The Mach 3 is a little more expensive to start with, but last longer, and does a wonderful job on your face. So I picked up those two items, visited him at the hospital, and then re-joined Kate later with chairs for us to sit on as we watched and enjoyed the Ruby Hunter tribute.

As I made my way back to meet Kate, along the way I was rather surprised to discover the statue of Mary MacKillop now outside St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. On reflection I think it’s a rather nice statue, particularly since it features Saint Mary with people, and you can actually sit down with her, as I noticed quite a few people doing.

A reasonably diverse Saturday, you would agree? :)

Looks like the work of Luke Temby on the walls of Surry Hills

Sat On My Lap

Cupco - the work of Luke Temby on the walls of Surry Hills
Cupco - the work of Luke Temby on the walls of Surry Hills

As Kate and I walked around the streets of Chippendale, we noticed posters featuring artwork by Luke Temby.

I noticed another one tonight as I came home from dinner at Emad’s on Cleveland Street.

The art group I belong to has bought a couple of works by Temby, and he has created this crazy kind of universe called Cupco. It was interesting to see his works out and about on the streets, as well as in the galleries.

Kate was into town for a couple of exhibitions, including one we saw together at Seymour Centre which focussed on Sydney experimental and electronic music of the early 1980s, as part of Sydney Festival. It was so-so.

But it was good to see Kate.

It was also a lovely dinner at Emad’s by the way, along with Colin and a couple of his friends. Colin used to work with the husband, and now, retired, he and his wife are having a whale of a time travelling the world “while they still can”.

We had just been to see “The Fabulous Frances Faye” downstairs at Belvoir Street.

Part of the set from the Fabulous Frances Faye at Belvoir Street
Part of the set from the Fabulous Frances Faye at Belvoir Street

I’d first heard about the show maybe six months ago when a cabaret-type I know came back from Adelaide raving about the show.

Fellow blogger, Yani, has also seen the show.

In that instance, Yani was the audience participation in the show, as was I tonight.

Prior to this, I’d heard the name Frances Faye before, but had no recognition of who she was.

Her connection with Australia, it seems, was a strong one, as she played here on many occasions, including her final performances on stage and television before she died.

The closest modern parallel, in some ways, would be Bette Midler. Not in a “Wind Beneath My Wings” sense, but in the sense of Bette’s cabaret act, combining strong showmanship, excellent musicianship, and a lovely bawdiness. And, back in 1960s Australia, she was apparently, popular with the gays.

The guy doing the show, Nick Christo, performs as Frances, though not in a frock. Dressed in a suit, he performs “a show” as Frances, seeking to capture the essence of her work, rather than engage in the art of female impersonation.

And he’s bloody fantastic. He’s a wonderful performer, who sings well, is comfortable in his body as he moves throughout the show, and who effortlessly takes you into the world of 1960s cabaret, epitomised by the likes of clubs like Chequers.

Towards the end, like Yani, I became the subject of a bit of audience participation as he sang and then sat on my lap.

It wasn’t an especially well-attended show, with an audience of maybe 40 downstairs at Belvoir. The audience was, however, enthusiastic, and there was a great buzz in the room. As everyone left there were smiles all round.

It was a wonderful show that’s opened my eyes to the work of the fabulous Frances Faye.

Hot in the City

As I listened to the radio this morning, Liz Ellis played the classic summer song, “Hot In The City” by Billy Idol. Twelve hours later, and as I walked home, the song was back in my head. It was appropriate for the weather. Also as I walked home tonight I found myself stuck behind a series of tall women, all of whom walked side-to-side across the footpath. I’d been out with Graeme for several hours and I was kinda in a mood to get home quickly. They’d also been out with friends for several hours, I assumed, and had a bit to drink, I also assumed by the way they walked. “Get out of my way”, I found myself wanting to say. Graeme and I had met at four this afternoon outside St James Station.

As I waited for my bus from Surry Hills prior to meeting to Graeme, I noticed an ANZ bank advertisement was being filmed nearby. As I waited at the bus stop, I didn’t know I was part of the assembled cast of extras until a woman came up to me offering me chicken, and until the woman next to me was called for her scene. It was, to the best of my knowledge, the only time a proper film – not a student film – has been made in my area, so keep an eye out for it, and you might just see me in the background.

As it was, we probably met too early. Even though there were bits and pieces happening in Hyde Park, most of the action didn’t get underway until six. And so Graeme and I wandered around for a couple of hours, looking at the sights, marvelling at how the city was about to be transformed, and then finally having a beer at The Windsor which, apparently, no longer has air conditioning.

Along the way, Graeme tweeted parts of what we did…

sitting in hyde park at sydney festival opening day, fucking hot, sweating! about 7 hours ago from mobile web

james is getting sausage at sauerkraut sisters stand in the domain about 6 hours ago from mobile web

at the shift having a refreshing bevvie about 4 hours ago from mobile web

busting to central is not fun! A gazillion festival goers trying to go home, 36 minutes ago from mobile web

Highlights of the First Night of Sydney Festival for us included the Bollywood Dance Routine, some of the acrobatic works, and the weather itself. On a slightly political note, it was great to see so much Indian culture celebrated tonight. We left when we found the crowds became all a bit too much. That said, it was a fine, fine night in Sydney. Close to midnight and it’s still pretty warm right now. We ended the night with a drink or two at the Midnight Shift, which both of us noted was far busier than New Years Eve. Worse still, they showed endless hours of Fashion TV. And when that also became to busy, we decided it was time to head home. Happy Sydney Festival.

Festival Party

“Did you see Grace Jones” was the most popular conversation opener at last night’s “Sydney Festival Opening Night Party” at Hyde Park Barracks.

Damo and I arrived there just after eleven. Quite early really, as the main crowd didn’t really arrive until about 11.30. Once inside, we had a bite to eat, a drink, and a wander around to see who we knew. Whenever we met someone there was the obligatory review of Grace Jones’ performance, with all of them overwhelmingly positive.

The design for the party this year – with a backyard theme, complete with hills hoists – was great fun. The hills hoists, though, were quickly denuded of their tea-towels and festival t-shirts (“How very Sydney”, a friend commented). And related to that theme, there were BBQ sausages, which were very, very tasty.

The music this year didn’t do all that much for me, nor quite a few of my friends. “It’s FESTIVAL music”, one said with a derisiory tone. “ADELAIDE festival music”, he added. Another said, “Just because it’s in French doesn’t make it interesting…” Harsh! Still, the DJ’s were pretty good, with a heavily 60s/70s funk/soul influence in the music they played, though almost all of it was very contemporary. And although I didn’t make it to the dance floor (unlike last year), we had a good time soaking up the atmosphere.

And we left at about 2.00am remarkably sober. Middle-age must be catching up with me.

After waking up reasonably late at about 10.30, it’s been a fairly quiet day. I went out and bought a new fridge yesterday which Damo helped me get out of the box, install, and remove the old one. After a brief visit to the supermarket, and a quick bite to eat I’ve spent the day watching some television. I started to watch “Milk” featuring Sean Penn, but fell asleep on the couch after about half-an-hour. What I saw was quite good, I guess I was just a little tired this afternoon from the night before.

Here’s Grace

Grace Jones was just a tiny spot on the stage last night, but she still managed to fill The Domain. She was, of course, the star attraction for the Sydney Festival First Night. And for me, the main attraction.

In common with a lot of similarly aged poofs, I’ve been a Grace Jones fan for a long, long, time. At about the age of eighteen I remember seeing, “Walking In The Rain” being played on Countdown, and being totally blown away. Along the way I’ve followed her musical career, though I’ve never been a fan of her acting. Unfortunately I never saw her the last time she played in Australia twenty years ago, as I was living in a different state. A different time and place. And so for me, getting to The Domain and finding a good spot was a high priority last night.

As Damo and I headed towards The Domain for the Sydney Festival First Night, we were blown away with how many people there were. We both quickly noticed, though, how seemingly few police and security guards there were. Somehow, the crowd managed to look after itself. A function, I guess, of being a drug and alcohol-free event. Well, for the public anyway. I’m not sure if I could say the same about Grace Jones!

I was blown away by the show. It’s as if her voice had never changed (and she was most definitely singing live). The most popular numbers were, not surprisingly, “Love Is The Drug”, “La vie en rose” and “Pull Up To The Bumper”. The audience was less-familiar with some of her other songs. I’d estimate only about a third of those attending The Domain would have known much about her musical career, as they were in the twenties and early thirties. But for me and a large number of similarly-aged people it was a great trip down memory lane, as we sang along, and danced with her like it was the mid 80s all over again.

Another great part of the show was her between-song-patter which was always very amusing. “You know I came to Australia twenty years ago and carved my initials in a tree. I’m still trying to find that tree. I must have been pretty fucked up at the time”, she said at one point to howls of laughter from the audience. Later at the after-show party at Hyde Park Barracks, a mate I work with quipped, “She’s looking in the wrong place. The tree’s ten feet taller now!”.

The other memorable “Grace Jones Moment” was when she suddenly invited people up on stage to “party”. It was pretty clear this was a spontaneous moment which the security guards had not been briefed on. While at first there was just two or three people dancing with her, by the end of the song there must have been fifty. Memorably, she told someone to “stop pushing, or I’ll get down there and PUSH YOU”. On another occasion, she noted a young bloke was having trouble climbing up on the stage, and observed, “He must have had too much to drink”. And then there was the moment where she bent and over and simulated sex with a young bloke she was dancing with, to howls of audience cheers. Oh, and the great moment where a bloke pulled out a camera seeking a photograph with her on stage, which she just dismissed with her hand. I could go on… All of these comments were delivered with the characteristic Grace Jones deadpan delivery.

In some ways, she was a slight parody of herself. But what a great parody! And, my how that small spot on the stage managed to command a lot of attention. Thank goodness for the big screens. Clearly the show was designed with them in mind. With each song there was a new costume or hat. Most memorable was the “disco bowler”, a bowler hat covered in sparklers, reflecting laser light. If there’s gonna be a DVD of the show, I’ll be lining up to buy it!