Speaker by Various Artists


Camp as a row of Spiegeltents

by Williams 1

Good god I'm drab. My clothes, carefully picked for the occasion, lack sequins and sparkle, my jeans are too loose and I've not got high-heels. My hair is not nearly sharp enough and my glasses - Gucci but brown - are seasons old. In short, I'm a middle-aged straight man. None of this would matter were it not for the fact that I'm surrounded by Drag Queens and Sydney's finest, most fabulous and famous. Even former Wallaby captain George Gregan's here - though clearly straight, his exotic appearance counts in his favour. I hide behind my wife. Not only is she beautiful, she knows lots of people.

Camp as a row of Spiegeltents, a one-off show produced by DIVA award winning Amelia Airhead, is a celebration of drag in Sydney. Kylie's here, Shirley Bassey too, a few of her in fact. I see an ageless Dusty Springfield and an aged Elizabeth Taylor. Backless dresses confuse me, so too prominent décolletage but more of that later. Tonight, the division of genders is both irrelevant and fascinating.

My first dragshow was in 2002. Late in the evening, my sister-in-laws suggest going to the Imperial. I tag along without realising what the venue is famous for. As we arrive, I assume it's just another of Sydney's gay clubs but as we take seats, it's clear it is not. For a moment, I'm a little nervous. We're close enough to be at risk of audience participation - a risk I avoid regardless of the nature of the performance. However, I'm somewhat relaxed by the incredibly mixed audience. Hens-parties, grandparents and hetro-couples make up a surprising percentage of the audience. Mitzi Macintosh is the hostess. She is Lucille Ball, she is Carmen Miranda, she is Nana Mouskouri. I am transfixed - the show is slapstick and Cabaret. When the buff boys join the glamourious Queens, the sexual tension is elevated far beyond anything the Pussycat Dolls could ever manage. For the next few years every time we host friend from New Zealand, I insist we go to the Imperial. Without exception, both my guests and I have a memorable night.

But back to the Spiegeltent. The venue couldn't be better suited. Built in 1920, the intimacy, the opulence and the mirrors - our host, (Mitzi again!) translates Spiegeltent to be German for Tent of Mirrors - all intensify the boysterous mood. And now the music starts, an introductory medley of disco anthems, Abba and Kylie - my youngest daughter would adore this gig were she not 15 years too young to attend.

The ensuing performance highlights the best of drag starting with the '70s Les Girls through to the latest winners of DIVA awards. The Spiegeltent is raucous; filled with cat-calls and screeches, hysterical laughter and applause. The Girly Basseys perform Goldfinger and I (who have nothing), a small Salvation Army choir perform Saved, Kylie sings Especially for You in duet with Jason Donovan. And then there are those boys again; independently-engineered pectorals, tight shorts confirming the latest trend for male-electrolysis and glittered bodies.

A number of classics from venues now since closed have been revived for the evening, including a classical burlesque striptease that resolves my earlier confusion; as this Queen removes her clothing it's clear she's neither tucked (the technical term for hiding the bloke's bit) nor padded her bra, hers is a permanent reign.

In the break, Mitzy recalls the early development of drag culture in Sydney - a risky venture in less tolerant days where hosts ensured there was always a balance of (gay) men and (lesbian) women should the Police pay a visit. Things have come a long way and there's now a number of drag venues in Sydney city (a full list of current shows is here). Several have recently closed however and the Imperial is still being refurbished. Oxford St remains the centre of the scene with shows Monday through Sunday at Midnight Shift, Stonewall and Arq.

The finale is another performance from Amelia Airhead which brings the boys back on stage. The audience is euphoric as Amelia performs "I Got the Music In Me" resplendent in yellow feathers - I doubt the Peacocks are courting hens tonight. I wonder how long it will take to remove costumes and make-up? I wonder how different the performers feel in street-wear? Not as drab as me I suspect.

It's hard to pick a highlight, impossible in fact, instead check out some of the shows yourself - the Girly Basseys, the Salvos and Mitzy doing 100 - 1.

Paul Williams

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