WERKIN’ CLASS

Third gendered, ex-fashion model and fallen Catholic performer, La JohnJoseph, has fluttered from Berlin to New York to London for the last five years with his autobiographical shows.

He returns to London’s Ovalhouse this February with ‘Boy in a Dress’; a three-week “retrospectacle”, comprising a trilogy of shows written over the past five years. Cabaret reporter, Jason Reid, sauntered off for a chat about music, politics, class… oh, and the all important dream dinner party, of course.

For those that have not seen you, how would you describe yourself and your act?

I wouldn’t because I am a horrible liar, and I would only mislead people. Instead I would suggest that people who enjoy bawdy storytelling, live music, black humour and frank observations would get a kick out of it. And anyone who ever struggled to become what they felt they were and in spite of a hostile environment will connect with it.

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Can you sum your new show, ‘Boy in a Dress’ up in five words?

Terpsichorean, ineluctable, nebulous, sisyphean, lugubrious.

Not quite an episode of Corrie, then! Would you say it’s almost like the ‘best bits’ of five years, and three show’s, work?

Yes, it’s material I had written with a view of performing as one piece, but never really had the financial or structural support to do so before now. Ovalhouse and the Arts Council have made it possible. Jeez, I feel like I’m accepting an Academy Award!

Why did you decide to go down the autobiographical route?

I came to performance from a live art background, not a theatre background so it has always been about making work with my own body, and my own memories. Performance art is very punk; it has a real anarchic aesthetic. It rejects so much of the formal training, technical knowledge and financial privilege most other forms require; I think that’s exciting and liberating.

What do you like to think audiences take away from your shows?

Me, in a blacked-out Bentley? Or a sense of hope, and the feeling that they have seen inside of a secret history, that somehow informs their own.

You feature the class system within your performances. Do you think class still plays a prevalent role in modern day Britain?

Absolutely, you only have to listen to how outraged wealthier people get at the idea of people who claim benefits and live in the centre of major cities to realize that this country is totally fragmented along class lines. Where else are those people supposed to live? Many of them grew up there! Are they supposed to move to Middlesex so they can commute everyday to feed, serve and clothe the rich? Come on!

Politics is another running theme in your shows. What would be your one key policy if you were hypothetically running in the US Presidential race? 

Tax the rich to educate the poor, create jobs through public works programs and not the military.

Interesting. On to lighter subjects, do you have any favourite styles of music and performers?

My tastes are really diverse, from disco to blues via Gregorian chants, but my favourite singer is Justin Vivian Bond, although my six-year old sister is pretty great, too. Her renditions of Rihanna are legendary on the playground.

You have performed in some wonderful cities and venues. Do you have any favourites?

The MoMA was quite breathtaking, also the Royal Opera House. I’ve had many magical nights in dive bars, and squats, too, of course, and I will always have a soft spot for The Long Haul, an anarchist “space” in California I used to perform at.

Top 5 cabaret dinner party guests

Justin Vivian Bond & Penny Arcade
Who I love, but don’t get to spend as much time in their company as I would like. It’s my fantasy – I can be as prosaic and selfish as I like.

Camille O’Sullivan
I’d invite her because I have admired her for a few years and never really spoken to her properly.

Liza Minnelli
I would invite her because she still owes me twenty quid.

Marlene Dietrich
Dietrich apparently made a great goulash! We’d modify the recipe to exclude meat but include LSD, and act out a live game of Cluedo.


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A Boy in a Dress is at Ovalhouse Theatre (52-54 Kennington Oval, SE11 5SW) Feb 13th-March 3rd 2012, Box Office: 020 7582 7680

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