sydney festival

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.