FOLLOWING the superb Snip/Tucked earlier this year, Cathy Specific and the Trolley Dollies are back with a festive season pantomime which, like its predecessor, comes to you with an important social commentary, gorgeously gift-wrapped in a rollicking song-and-dance show.
In Snip/Tucked the message was to learn how to accept ourselves for how we look; The Three Little Pigs takes this even further, into the territory of accepting ourselves – and others – for what we are. These are issues we should all be aware of, and particularly close to home for drag performers, whose lives are often the fringe of what is generally tolerated.
Yes, the show is fantastic: Cathy, Holly and Molly are in as fine form as ever – choreography is on point, legs all the way up to heaven, clever songs, witty dialogue, fun costumes…and of course, with the added extra of a Big Bad Wolf (hilariously played by Sean John Louw). It’s bawdy, it’s entertaining, and with a new menu of mezze, an all-round superb night out.
However, I wanted to dig a little deeper so I had coffee with the utterly gorgeous (yes, I’m fangirling here, crushing, whatever) Christopher Dudgeon aka Holly, who is the man behind the creation of these shows.
“It’s a very strange thing to be a drag queen. You find yourself outside of society norms and when you’re in that sort of role it gives you a kind of bird’s eye view of how society functions,” he says. “It’s a very interesting position to be in.”
As such, drag queens can say things others cannot get away with without offending. “When I found myself in the position to be able to write shows in our theatre as drag queens, it was a fantastic position because I can say things to audiences I really believe everyone needs to hear,” Christopher continues.
“The society we live in is still so prejudiced and unwilling to accept otherness, and it needs to be spoken about – it absolutely needs to be spoken about – and the best way to do that, I find, is through humour; to get an audience to listen to you is to make them to laugh for 45 minutes and then say ‘here’s the reason I’ve been talking to you’.
“We’ve really had fantastic results. We get a lot of ‘unusual’ people coming to us after the show, big burly straight men, saying ‘I’m so glad I saw this because I didn’t realise… I had no idea…I didn’t want to come tonight, my wife dragged me, my friend dragged me’.”
So to speak, we laugh and laugh.
Christopher and his co-stars Brendan van Rhyn (Cathy) and Rudi Jansen (Molly) are close friends – best friends, family even – and they trust him completely. When he asked them to come out after the show as their male selves as an experiment, the reactions were initially mixed.
“Brendan resisted, Rudi was neither here nor there, and I was for it,” laughs Christopher. “I really wanted to see how people would react to us confronting them unexpectedly in our natural male forms. It would be an acceptance of who we are. And it is important for me – as owners of Gate69 – to see where we want to take this thing next, what our next exploration will be. I need know what show we’ll do next, and this has informed the script I am currently writing.”
This closeness shines through on stage, when you can see they are just having so much damn fun up there. It also leads to what – for me – has become a highlight: make Holly corpse. Just mentioning it makes Christopher chuckle.
I have questions: Is it planned? Is it part of the show? When is it going to happen? Is it built in?
“The way we do it is I leave a certain portion of the script open to interpretation – for them – because I know they’re going to do it anyway,” Christopher explains. But they can still take her by surprise…
With Cathy already there in all her glorious glamour, the characters of Holly and Molly were developed more fully after their debut at Madame Zingara back in 2011. It was an interesting and long process, says Christopher. “In the beginning Holly and Molly did not speak. Cathy did all the talking. When we opened Gate69 and decided we were going to do a full-on Trolley Dollies musical, we began to question who Holly and Molly were. Who are they?
“I am the bitch and Molly is the lovely friendly one. We found fairly early on it was important to have Cathy as middle ground with a bit of each of them in her, holding it together. On one side of her is Molly who is love and all things light, and on the other, Holly, who is her foil.
“It’s absolutely necessary in order to tell a story about society, to have the two dichotomies with which people can identify,” says Christopher. “You’d be amazed to know how many come up to me afterwards and say ‘I’m JUST like Holly’, which is a bit surprising.
“In The Three Little Pigs I decided to tell Holly’s story, about why would a person be like that? What would bring a person to that sort of outwardly cold exterior? Nothing comes from nothing. That’s what this story is about, and how even someone as bubbly and lovely as Molly can be hurtful to someone, and that person would never show it.”
Because Gate69 is their livelihood and their passion in life, there’s thought behind everything they do, says Christopher. “I am exceptionally fortunate as an artist to be able to explore this with a theatre at my disposal and two fantastic performers. It’s the most exciting thing.”
For more information and to book for the show, which runs until December 22, click here.