Lola Lasagne aka Stephen Richards is one of the most successful and popular cabaret acts on the UK scene. She has played all over the UK, starred in plays, pantos and is the organiser and host of the cabaret tent at Brighton Pride. Next week Stephen is celebrating 30 years of being Lola with a special show at The Two Brewers, that will include special appearances by Myra DuBois, Miss Jason and Mary Mac plus a live interview with Dave Cross, who also had a chat with Stephen at The Two Brewers as we shot this week’s cover.
What were you like as a child?
Very disturbed clearly, as I’ve ended up doing 30 years of drag. To be honest it wasn’t a great childhood and things like music and drama were my way of escaping. I think I always wanted to be an entertainer, although I didn’t really realise that until much later. I did school plays, including being a Munchkin in the Wizard of Oz when I had to wear a camp dress… it obviously started at a very early age.
What else did you do as a younger performer?
I used to do impersonations. I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I did Margaret Thatcher and a very good Michael Crawford as Frank Spencer and in fact there’s a photo of me somewhere in a beret.
When were you first aware of men dressing as women to entertain?
Growing up in the seventies it would have been on TV, The Two Ronnies, Stanley Baxter and the like…
Danny La Rue?
I remember watching his specials, but that didn’t appeal to me as much as the others and even Morecambe and Wise, because they were funnier. Danny La Rue was a female impersonator, which is great and I like that, but it was the comedy of Stanley Baxter and The Two Ronnies that got me.
How did you get from being a kid watching Stanley Baxter to being in drag yourself?
Because I worked here at The Brewers. From the age of 18 I was a barman here and this is where I first put a dress on as an adult. They used to do, An Evening With Auntie Beryl, who was Brian Derbyshire, and he had guests including Lily Savage, Maisie Trollette, Adrella and more. HIV and AIDS were on the rise and The Brewers were always doing fundraisers to get money and equipment needed for places such as St Mary’s Ward at St Thomas’ Hospital and the staff used to drag up for those and I did that.
Tell us about your first actual show?
Well that was supposed to be at The Brewers on 12 June 1989 but The RVT actually got in first and I did there on Wednesday 7 June.
What was it like?
I was absolutely bricking it. The Tavern back then was a real meeting place for queens when they weren’t working, so anyone could be hanging around by the bar. I did OK, it was alright and I remember cleaning some queen who heckled me, which got me a nice round of applause, I was very proud of that.
How would you describe your look then?
Rough as fuck.
And what was your act back then?
It was mostly lip-sync actually. I would do standards like All That Jazz or Sweet Transvestite, but even from my first gig I always did some live patter, I knew it was important to connect with the audience from the start.
I know we’ve talked about this before in Boyz, but where did the name come from?
Lola Lasagne was actually a character on the original TV series of Batman, the one with Adam West. Lola was played by Ethel Merman, the character’s other name was Lulu Schwartz, Sandra Hush used to call me Lulu, so it all fitted and let’s face it you don’t get camper than that.
And when did you start to sing live in the act?
That was again at The RVT when Adrella decided to put me to the test on one of the Sports Days, she put a mic in my hand, threw me onstage and made me sing Big Spender.
What was the scene like then compared to now?
In many ways it felt bigger, there were more venues and we were always searching out safe spaces and those spaces were much more exclusively LGBT. Most of the venues were more hidden and underground though, and it wasn’t really until places like Gary Henshaw with Ku and also Kasbar in the West End began to make things more open with big windows. Things are clearly much better for a lot of people now in terms of acceptance and how people live their lives, but back then in the late eighties and early nighties there was more genuine excitement about going to new places, it was more of an adventure.
When did you know that this your full time job?
Honestly I’d say it wasn’t until 2012 when I was at the Theatre Royal doing Boys in the Band and then my first big panto. I think that’s when I became validated in my own head, that what I was doing was legitimate and it all seemed to gel. But, to be fair, long before that, I’d given up my day job at Selfridges in the nineties and that’s really when it became what I did full time.
You’ve been performing for 30 years, is it possible to pick any highlights?
Playing somewhere for the first time is always a highlight, but apart from those, I’d say in 1994, the last time London Pride was in Brockwell Park. I’d done the cabaret tent, which was an awful set up and afterwards Regina and I were very drunk and we tried to get backstage at the main stage to see Savage who was hosting. At first the security wouldn’t let us in, but then Kim Lucas, god bless her, spotted us and got us in and we were on the side of the stage when Savage grabs the pair of us and we ended up along with Ebony and Yvette doing backing vocals for Boy George in front of 20,000 people. That was a proper moment, along with organising my first Brighton Pride cabaret tent in 2002. I’d hosted before, but that was the first one I’d been given the tent to organise. And obviously the people I’ve worked with, people like Savage, Adrella and Regina… her birthdays were always pretty spectacular.
The scene now is more diverse than ever and there seem to be more drag acts of all kinds, what is it that makes a great cabaret act for you?
I really can’t say this enough… talent. I’m all for drag kings, non binary, female drag or whatever, but for me you have to be funny and have a proper act. Just coming on stage and looking amazing is not enough. I admire those girls who look stunning, the girls on Drag Race etc, and of course we were doing that high glamour drag in the UK decades before Drag Race. I admire the ones more who make me laugh and have real talent.
What can we expect at your anniversary show at The Two Brewers next week?
That’s a very good question, I guess I should sort something out… No seriously, I’ll be doing some songs and having a chat live on stage with you Dave, and we are asking readers to ask questions, which is a bit scary. Plus I’ve asked three of my closest friends – Miss Jason, Mary Mac and Myra DuBois – if they will come down and also have a chat, tell some stories, give their views about my career and sing some songs… I’m sure there will be quite a few laughs at my expense.
And finally what other ambitions or goals do you have?
If I could act every day I would, I really love being on stage. I want to push myself, to do more and different things, I love being different people, but I also would never take anything away from this, from being Lola, this is my bread and butter and I love it. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve got to do so
Ask Lola and win tickets!
Next Thursday during An Audience With Lola Lasagne at The Two Brewers, Boyz’ Dave Cross will be interviewing Lola live on stage and we’d like to know what question you want her to answer? You can ask her anything you like, just email Dave with your questions and he will pick the best ones, plus the two best questions will win a pair of tickets each to this special night and will get to ask Lola their question in the flesh… as it were. Send your questions with contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org