If you haven’t heard of groundbreaking play cum feature film The Boys in the Band then we may have to take away your gay membership card right now! Leading theatre producer Kevin Wood has brought the show back to the stage, with a distinctly camp twist and Christopher Biggins directing. Assembling together a stellar cast of some of the UK’s most talented cabaret divas, we sent Lee Dalloway down to Brighton to meet the gang and find out more…
In 1968, a year before the Stonewall riots, Mart Crowley unleashed an off-Broadway production that was not only revolutionary in that it revolved almost exclusively around gay characters, but that it was an unexpectedly huge hit. So much so that it was adapted into an equally landmark film two years later, allowing mainstream audiences an insight into the world of a close-knit group of gay men who all come together for a party none of them will ever forget.
Flash forward to the south of England in 2012, and the play is being revived by a group of gay men with similar levels of real-life camaraderie and fiery personalities, better known as leading stars from our glittering cabaret scene.
This production sees the first half of some of our favourite divas playing it ‘straight’ with a slightly abridged version of the play, whilst the second act, The Girls in the Band, features the cast performing grander versions of their usual acts with big numbers and plenty of hilarious campery.
“When [producer] Kevin Wood rang me and said he wanted to revive Boys in the Band, he actually wanted to get nine actors and then train them to be drag queens,” says Dave Lynn. “I said, ‘we’ve got some brilliant performers here, so why don’t we do it the other way around.’ I’ve always wanted to do a show with my fellow artistes and colleagues; something that would be challenging.”
Challenging is the word for some of the performers, many of whom have had no formal training, but have all spent several years honing their craft in front of one of the toughest audiences any performer can experience – pub punters.
“The first half really took many of us out of our comfort zone,” admits Lola Lasagne, “but I think the most difficult thing for me was actually some of the dance numbers in ‘Girls’. I can sing a song, tell a gag and kill a heckler at twenty paces, but moving doesn’t come naturally to me…”
“Emphasis on the ‘moo’”, chips in Rose Garden, as quickfire as ever. “Thanks, you bitch!” snaps back Lola with good humour. “For me it was the line learning I found difficult,” admits Rose. “And can you believe I actually got a note to say I needed to act drunker!”
“No-one’s ever said that to you before, have they darling?” quips back Lola.
It’s these kind of sassy comebacks and bitchy lines that makes ‘Boys’ so memorable, and this cast’s chemistry demonstrates why they are perfect to tackle the role for a 21st century audience.
“What I think is really interesting is the story is about a group of friends who don’t always support each other and do sometimes have a little dig, which actually exists in all of us,” explains Miss Jason. “But when the chips are down we’ll all get back together and rally.”
Whilst the play itself may be over forty years old, the situations, themes and characters will be instantly recogniseable.
“People will still know the characters now,” adds Rose. “There’s the educated, bitchy one with the acerbic wit, the one who’s good looking but a bit repressed, a relationship where one is sleeping around and the other one’s not too happy about it… That and copious amounts of alcohol! Drunken words are sober thoughts and that’s what happens in the party. People start to tell the truth.”
One of the cast members, the legendary Maisie Trollette, already has an affinity with the play, and out of all the performers, has probably seen the most changes within the gay scene and wider community. “I’ve already done it a couple of times here in Brighton and on tour, and these boys play it brilliantly,” says Maisie. “It is camp, but it’s not ‘drag camp’, it has to be played quite straight.”
“It starts very light hearted and gets darker and darker,” adds Miss Jason. “We’re all discovering things about each other that we never knew. It’s a bit like being naked, dear, we’re more vulnerable without our make-up.”
So, what’s been the best part of this challenging new adventure? “The most surreal thing is seeing (Director) Christopher Biggins in front of you,” says Lola. “He writes nothing down, doesn’t read the script but he writes everything down that’s going on. He gave us all brilliant notes and did so in the most encouraging way.”
“For me, it’s been all about coming together as an ensemble,” adds Lady La Rue. “Leaving all the egos at the front door and producing a play that’s convincing. It’s about stripping away our characters that the audience know and creating different ones that the audience believe in.”
“Don’t forget the second half,” chips in Rose. “The routines are big, there’s dance, comedy; it’s like light and shade… and this is sparkle shade!”
• The Boys in the Band/The Girls in the Band runs from Wednesday 22nd to Friday 31st August at Theatre Royal Brighton (New Road Brighton, BN1 1SD). Tickets are available by calling 0844 871 7650 or online at