Award-winning performer and The Glory proprietor Jonny Woo is back at the Hackney Empire with a very Un-Royal Variety show next weekend, starring Christeene, Bourgeois & Maurice, Myra DuBois and loads more. Here, Jonny reveals all about this raucous, ravishing romp.
Hi Jonny, how would you describe your Un-Royal Variety show?
The Un-Royal Variety is an ‘old-skool punk political comedy musical variety spectacular revue’ – ta-dah! It features some of the hottest queer and cabaret talent in the world – yes, the world – and is almost entirely all original material with work produced solely for this show, never to be repeated!
You’re back again this year, so how was the show last year?
It totally blew away all of mine, the cast’s and audience’s expectations. I knew it was going to be good from the line up alone, but I had no idea it was going to be as amazing as it was, and that is because of the combination of the talent of the guests, obvs, the majesty and history of the venue, the support of the community who came out in force to watch, and the political resonance everything had given the change in the political landscape in 2016.
What is it you look for in an act to take part in the show?
Hmm, when I set out to do this show with my producer Reuben Cook, we just thought let’s book our favourite acts. So first of all it was a case of, who do I like? Who would I want to see on that stage? But then, who is able of holding a capacity audience of up to 1,300. Not everyone can do that. It’s a different feeling, skill set to play to a space that large and to an audience who might not know your work. For example, when I first saw Pete and Bambi’s act I was like, they are perfect. They are the ‘magic’ in the variety; they have an old fashioned sensibility but are totally kitsch and flamboyant, not gay, but definitely queer in their own way, something most LGBT audiences won’t have seen.
Can you talk us through some of the acts you have on this year?
OK, Christeene is flying in from Texas especially, so we are expecting some serious beats and rants about the shit that’s going down on the other side of the pond. Retuning from last year we have Jayde Adams, who is a great comic, really breaking now who is not just talking silly funny stuff but performing one of Richard Thomas’ (the show’s composer) hits from his musical. We have commissioned Lucy McCormick, a new addition to the bill, to create a new work. So it’s a world premiere from one of the country’s most exciting performance artists. Bourgeois & Maurice will be appearing in Virtual Reality. Myra DuBois is going to give us some massive laughs. East London funk band Nostalgia of Mothership will be kicking off the second half and all 20 members of The Kate Middleton Choir are pregnant this year. I’ve written a new song with Le Gateau Chocolat and Mawaan Rizwan and Richard Thomas about casual racism. The list goes on…
Will the line up be the same on both nights?
Of course, what do you want from me – blood?!
What is it about the Hackney Empire that makes it perfect for this?
It’s a stunning venue. It’s steeped in a history of variety. It’s just gorgeous to look at and the tech crew and staff are totally behind the show. There is no other venue of this size in London where this kind of show is possible.
We live in interesting times – what role or roles do you think cabaret and performance should take?
It’s vital. It’s not a case of what role it should take, but what role is it taking? Queer performance in London is so strong right now with conversations on gender, sexuality, race, sex and politics taking place in bars and clubs and theatres to diverse straight and gay audiences. These tumultuous times have made for some very exciting work with the emergence of some very exciting new audiences. Obviously I will mention the Glory here and I try and keep the programme lively and challenging, and with John Sizzle we are totally open to and encourage work from all members of our community.
Is there anything else we need to know?
Despite now having relocated to Elephant and Castle, a large part of my heart is still very much lodged with Hackney and I take great pride in seeing its queer arts scene flourish. So much is going on and the area, after all this time, still has the character of being alternative, different, trendy if you must, but always challenging. The scene is built by individuals who are passionate about the area and making a community, not breweries, chains or big business. People have really put themselves on the line to make things happen and I hope that the Un-Royal stands as testament to the uproarious spirit of the queer underground of London who will not be silenced.