Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Dubious drag, superpoofs, mystery, murder, Music Hall and mayhem

We went to another wonderful Polari on Monday evening in the glittering Royal Festival Hall - and we regulars (John-John, little Tony, Ange, Paul and I) were joined by a "virgin" to the event, Craig, who thoroughly enjoyed it.

Her Majesty Paul Burston - fresh from celebrating her Diamond Jubilee last weekend - opened the show draped in ermine and Union Jacks (appropriately enough), but without dear Philip she looked a bit lonely (hee hee!).

Alex Hopkins, Paul Burston and moi. Photo by Krys FitzGerald-Morris

The fantabulosa Alex Hopkins, Polari regular, journalist, writer, dilettante and all-round sweetheart opened the show - teetering onto the stage in six-inch heels in a remarkably good impression of Tori Spelling. His dark, confessional tale of cow-pats, bullying, suicide attempts, coming-out, and pursuit of sleazy sexual encounters was engrossing, and certainly set the scene for the rest of the evening. Progressing into more familiar territory, we entered the nightlife of Soho in the company of Mr Hopkins and his large and strident lady friend, as they encounter such delightful characters as “Prudence Chastity Chambers – Drag Queen of Dubious Distinction”. He had us laughing and gaping in awe as the adventures unfolded. Excellent stuff, and as always left me wanting to read more...

The rather sexy Kristian Johns was up next. Apparently one of the "most influential gay people on Twitter" (whatever that means) Mr Johns was a contributor to last year's short story anthology Men and Women, edited by Mr Burston. So well-received was his excellent story - an allegory of the powerlessness of an HIV diagnosis offset by the young protagonist's discovery of superhuman abilities - Dying, and other super-powers that it is now being made into a film!

Well done that man... Here he is reading from his tale, at the launch of Men and Women:

Completing the first half of the evening's entertainment, and in complete contrast, Mr David Waller had a true tale about a Music Hall entertainer and strongman - a long-forgotten Victorian/Edwardian "Muscle Mary" indeed - by the name of Eugen Sandow. His is a fascinating (and brilliantly researched by Mr Waller) story of success and scandal, and quite possibly one worthy of its own blog entry one day hence...

After the break, a rare overseas visitor Mr Colin Kelley - all the way from Atlanta, Georgia - read for us a passage from his new novel Remain in Light - a tangled web of relationships that unfolds in unexpected ways in Paris at the time of Princess Diana's death. Intriguing and mysterious...

Our most anticipated speaker, Mr Neil Bartlett was next. In typically dramatic manner (his theatrical back-catalogue is indeed impressive) he stunned the audience into (almost) silence with his readings from his new work Queer Voices. Harking back to the endless fundraisers and awareness-raising events he was involved in (as were we all - "Ask someone with white hair. They were there.") during the AIDS panic 80s, his monologues - heavy on sarcasm and quiet, subtle, seething anger - were not so much effective weapons as downright gut-wrenching in their impact. I was mightily impressed (and choked) at the same time...

And so it fell to headliner Alex Marwood to cheer us up. In the circumstances, the story she had to tell (from her new novel The Wicked Girls, about two young girls from very different backgrounds who committed a random murder, then through happenstance end up meeting again as adults) was not exactly a jolly bundle of laughs. What it was, however, was brilliantly written and absolutely engrossing, and we loved it!

Once again, a remarkable and fascinating array of readings and styles of writing were gathered together to make a fine evening's entertainment, and once again it left us emotionally drained and hankering for another helping.

Roll on next month - where we will be treated to the announcement of the Polari First Book Prize 2012 "long-list" and readings from Mark McCormack, Alex Drummond, Vicky Ryder, Michael Wynne and Stuart Wakefield. I shiver in antici.....pation!

Polari at the Southbank


  1. Again, a fabulous account of a fabulous evening! Sadly I won't be at the next soiree as I shall be ladying it up at the Hoxton Kitchen with the soon to be Mayor of Camden again, Jonathan Simpson seeing The Irrepressibles. See you at Pride love, costume is coming along very nicely. I might even have a dress rehearsal at th'weekend! You have been warned!! ;-) xxx

    1. Forewarned is forearmed :-) Jx

      PS Enjoy the Irrepressibles!

  2. Brilliant blog (yet again) almost as good as being there.

    Great photos too - well done on getting Kristian Johns looking at the camera - his glances upward were infrequent if my multiple pictures are anything to go by.

    The poems about Wonder Woman & The Virgin Mary in the Underpass by Colin Kelley were welcome light relief in a night of heavy subject matter.

    See you on Friday x

    1. Darling! It was fabulous from beginning to end - and yes, Mr Kelley and Mr Waller were light relief indeed... Jx

      PS "Try as I might... I just can't walk in flats!"
      PPS Note the new photo I added to the blog - camp, moi?!

  3. Thanks for this, Jon. It was another brilliant evening, wasn't it? I was very impressed with the line-up.

    1. I am constantly amazed and astounded at the sheer quality of entertainment on show at Polari. It is the highlight of my month, every month! Jx

      PS Lovely to see you there!

  4. the new photo is great - you get all the best shots after us light-weights have gone home … x

    1. It was all downhill from there... Remind me not to bother with Halfway to Heaven on a karaoke night again! Jx

  5. Jon, thank you for this brilliant write-up. I couldn't go to Polari this time (sadly) but I now know what I missed thanks to your thorough (and witty) blog piece. Thank you, DJ Connellx


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