Stephen Van Niekerk

If popular gay thought is to be believed, in South Africa in 2010 there’s no need for gay pride events, going to gay bars or buying gay magazines.

The country’s laws completely protect us, gay bars are passé and everything one needs in terms of gay info can be gleaned from online sources. Facebook keeps us in contact will all our nearest and dearest. MeetMarket and Gaydar source us quickies and long term mates.

Our employers and our friends and our family all love us unconditionally and society doesn’t give a damn who we are, so let’s not define ourselves by our sexuality. We’re earning much more than we need for people unlikely to breed or adopt children. Oh yes, and drag shows are silly, beneath us.

If you’re in agreement, good luck. Naivety could well be the end of you.

I bring these points up because I had the good fortune to see The Return Of The Infamous! Doo Bee Boobies at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein. Now, the dears behind this show, and indeed the show itself, are forever entwined with my personal history. For you see, what we often parody as ‘gay culture’ is very much a part of our interpersonal, romantic and political development.

So, with much respect to Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and of course Sophia…

Picture it: Grahamstown, July 1994. The National Arts Festival is celebrating the full gambit of South African sub-cultures, heady after the success of our first democratic elections.

Dramatists formal and fringe alike skitter to and fro from main auditorium to fringe saal soaking up the best culture, art, performances, songs and poetry available, trussed up and armed against the Eastern Cape cold by liters of red wine. Amongst these thespians and culture vultures skulks a newly minted, virile and very naïve newbie gay boy: me.

The very last of many gay themed shows I had booked for was the original Doo Bee Boobies. It was bloody cold. I’d supped on much red wine that night (ah, the metabolism of a seventeen year old!). Then I steeled myself for my first proper drag show. I’d seen the occasional amateur drag contest at Durban clubs but never a proper drag revue. This was going to be a night to remember. I couldn’t have been more prophetic.

In the audience that night was a man unlike any other I’d ever met. My heart skipped beats when we made eye contact. My palms sweated. My head swam. This man was going to turn out the first true love of my life. We’d end up spending 36 hours after the end of that superb show wining, dining and um, well, you can guess the rest.

At that first show I made friends, first with my new lover, and then with the wonderful Robert Whitehead, Mark Hawkins and Tony Bentel. Their stunning production and the enigmatic personalities who populated it left an indelible mark on me for the rest of my gay life.

Fast forward 16 years to the Return of the Infamous! Doo Bee Boobies. The erasable wit and outrageous opening homage to La Cage Au Folles was there. The tired tits, creaking hips and weighted girths were clearly in evidence. The delightful Tony Bentel was still playing a wicked piano with the grin to match. Mark Hawkins was spreading those talented legs as far as ever (lucky girl) with the grimace of one who’s seen it all and done most of it.

Newcomer Stephen Van Niekerk’s magnificent physique was squeezed bravely into towering stilettos (but sauntered up the fire pole with a reckless abandon than makes me want to have a good chat with his lovely wife).

Robert Whitehead

Dear Ebrahim Medell’s old-school glamour was a delight to behold. But the old up-stager herself, the indomitable Robert Whitehead, managed to undo all the costume assistant’s best efforts – leaving us with an eyeful of bollocks, cock and bull!

Most importantly, we loved every minute of it! Drag performers are our clowns, we laugh often at them, but more often we laugh with them.

Doo Bee Boobies is delightful and fun, indeed it is silly. Drag is silly. But silly is fun and takes our mind off the aspects of our lives we’d like to forget. These performances remind us not to take out sexuality nor our liberties too seriously. And if a few tired ballerinas can still raise eyebrows with superb satire and flawless performance, then the job’s being done well.

I haven’t so thoroughly enjoyed a performance for many, many years and laughed with genuine mirth from beginning to end.

The show runs until 22 August 2010 at the Joburg Theatre and I recommend this show to all those who can remember what fun it was to be queer and to the jaded younglings who need to remember that while drag shows are silly, they are also lots of fun.

Book at Computicket.

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