Pride in London weekend at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is bookended with The Lipsinkers on Friday and Sunday Social, but the main event on Saturday night sees The RVT’s long-running honky tonk club night Duckie take over not just the inside of the venue but the outside pavement area and railway arch next door for a huge celebration of queer history and heritage. A highlight of the night will be a re-enactment of one of The RVT’s past drag queen’s finest hours – the late Zsarday’s ‘And I Am Telling You’ – by artist Travis Alabanza. It’s a night not to be missed and we asked Simon Casson from Duckie to tell us more.
Duckie’s Gay Shame 2019: We Are Lost
Saturday 6 July, 9pm – 4am
“Picture the scene. In 1989, 30 years ago in London’s longest running bent boozer, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a beautiful black working class drag queen takes centre stage in Regina Fong’s legendary Monday Madhouse cabaret night. She is lip-syncing for her life to the Broadway soulful belter ‘And I Am Telling You’ from the musical Dream Girls. The packed-to-the-gills crowd raise the roof as she tears into the number that she has performed hundreds of times before in the gay bars of London, ripping off her fake fur coat, earrings and pearl necklace.
If you are over 50 reading this, and were a habitue of the capital’s underground gay scene in the 1980s, you probably remember Zsarday, aka Skinny Bitch. Playwright Neil Bartlett described her three-minute turn as ‘the greatest piece of performance art I have ever seen’. Sadly, like so many of her peers, Zsarday died of AIDS just a few years later. Little evidence of Zsarday has survived. Black feminine of centre queer or trans people did not get archived back in the day. Drag and campy, vampy popular entertainment performed in pubs and clubs – the bread and butter of Boyz magazine – does not get written about in books, and doesn’t get the respect and attention awarded to other more legitimate art forms, no matter how brilliant, popular or cultish the shows were. But Zsarday remains in the hearts and cultural memories of the gay men and lesbians that loved her act, and there is a precious recording of it taped 30 years ago that survives on YouTube.
This Gay Pride night, in the public railway arch next to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, veteran South London club runners Duckie have commissioned artist Travis Alabanza to carefully and faithfully re-stage Zsarday’s golden age performance – move for move, in exactly the same costume and wig, plagiarising the evidence from the YouTube clip in a spectacular homage to Skinny Bitch.
“There have always been amazing black queer and trans performers in history, they just usually haven’t been recorded,” says Travis. “Zsarday was a brilliant artist, genderfucker and brave soul working in the spit and sawdust backstreet drag pubs of the 1980s, earning probably about 20 quid a gig. I know she has a special place in the hearts of queer people of a certain age. She brought such joy and served such passion. I want to capture that energy and honour her legacy. On Gay Pride night at midnight, it’s my privilege to bring life to her work, and say ‘Thank you Skinny Bitch!’”
Duckie’s long-running alternative event on Gay Pride night is called Gay Shame, which is now in its 24th year. This year’s theme is Lost, and Amy Lamé and the crew have got a special licence to run a street party outside The RVT and in the railway arch next door. As well as Travis’ homage to Zsarday, the event features two large scale dance pieces, featuring more than 40 dancers, with choreography by Lea Anderson and H Plewis, plus turns from awesome arse-bandit Mouse and drag ingénue Horrora Shebang, music sets from punk band Screaming Toenail and an older folks’ ukulele orchestra, a few satirical sideshows from lost LGBT subcultures like ‘Old Queen’ and ‘Butch Lesbian’, and rock and roll DJ sets from Readers Wifes, Father Cloth and John Baiely.”
Duckie’s Gay Shame is on Saturday 6 July from 9pm until 4am at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Tickets are £15 on the door, no advance sales, and more details can be found at duckie.co.uk. You can view the vintage video of Zsarday’s performance from 1989 on Duckie’s Facebook event page.
Sunday Social presents Queens of Cabaret
Sunday 7 July, 4pm – 10.30pm
Sunday Social keeps the Pride party going the afternoon after the night before when the fabulous Stephanie’s Child take to the stage for a fantastic performance at 5.30pm. There’s also commercial dance and pop and club classics from DJs including resident Simon Le Vans plus the amazing Adam Turner, who is making his venue debut. Woo! Entry is £5 for members, £7 for guests.