Mary Mac is one of the most successful and most loved cabaret acts on our scene, playing everywhere from the Admiral Duncan to G-A-Y Porn Idol with residencies at the Two Brewers, Halfway II Heaven, the RVT and George and Dragon, plus pantos and much more. Dave Cross had a catch up with Mary to talk about growing up in Glasgow, Stanley Baxter, Bette Rinse, moving to Lanzarote and the future.
You’re Scottish, but where exactly are you from?
I was born in the south side of Glasgow. I was one of five children and we lived on a very posh council estate running around in as many tartan tracksuits as my mum could buy.
What is your first memory of drag?
I think it must have been panto in Glasgow. It’s such a massive thing there and I grew up watching the Krankies, Gerard Kelly, Elaine C Smith and, on the TV, Stanley Baxter. I think Scotland’s always had a tradition of men dressing up as women and someone like Stanley Baxter was way ahead of his time.
How did you get into performing?
I went to stage school aged seven and did it, alongside normal school, which I hated, for ten years. I did every kind of singing and dancing possible and I loved it.
How did you go from stage school kid into drag?
I had moved to London and I was an out of work actor, like so many people are. I had done panto before, so I knew I could walk in heels and do a bit of make up, even though my make up was atrocious back then. My first performance was actually at the Above The Stag Theatre in its old home in Victoria. Myself and a couple of friends hired it and did a show called A Midsummer Night’s Drag and that was, I think, eight years ago.
What happened next?
I went to audition for Snow White and the Seven Poofs and Bette Rinse was there. We hit it off straight away, I just loved her and we became great friends. She really helped me get on to the scene. She saw I could sing but totally taught me about how to do the chat and comedy and go with what I thought was funny.
You had a brief spell in The Supreme Fabulettes and then about three years ago you seemed to make a conscious decision to really go for it as a solo artist…
I did have moments when I would wonder if I wanted to go back into theatre and acting, but, yes, about three years ago I realised that I did have something here with this. It meant I could do something I love and be in control. So with the help of Brett, my other half, who makes everything for me and has been so supportive, I decided to really give my all.
How has Mary evolved over the past few years?
I’m not so precious about my show now. Of course I still care about the act and entertaining people, but I’m more willing now to go with the flow. Sometimes it’s amazing to be on the stage and have a planned moment at somewhere like the RVT, but then I love it when it descends into chaos as well.
And your crowd surfing, how did that start?
Oh gosh, I think it must have been at the Brewers; I don’t think I’d have been brave enough to try it anywhere else.
The other big thing is that you and Brett have moved to Lanzarote…
Yes, I always wanted to live somewhere in the sun; growing up in Scotland I missed a lot of important vitamins as a child. Brett and I were in the position where we could try it and thankfully it has worked. Now we are looking at maybe doing something over here, start a business, as there’s no real cabaret scene in Lanzarote.
Other than that, what are your plans for the future?
I’ve been given the chance to write the panto I’m going to be in at Christmas, which is just brilliant. I love panto and this is an incredible chance. Apart from that I just want to carry on being Mary Mac as long as possible and be able to do my Mary Mac medley as long as I can Irish dance. I want to make people laugh and forget this crazy world for just a little while.
Sum up the venues you work in. The Two Brewers…
The Brewers is unlike any other place with a crowd that will let you do anything you want and go with you through all the madness.
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern…
The RVT is such a special venue. When you stand on that stage you can feel the legends that have been there before and the crowd gives you back the love and respect that the venue gives them.
Halfway II Heaven…
Halfway is a bunker of fun where I did my first few shows and I don’t think I can ever go wrong there.
And finally, the George and Dragon in Greenwich…
The George and Dragon, with its lovely refurb, is like no other pub, probably in the whole country, where the Duchess looks after her acts and her punters.