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Jo'Burg Days: Poppy-Geranium

The life of a professional drag artist is no joking matter, as Barbara Durlacher’s story reveals.

“...With drag artists and hot male dancers, a first-class producer and a gifted costume designer and a choreographer who really puts them through their paces, you have the recipe for an extravaganza that will change the face of the genre forever. The repertoire spans numerous decades and divas from both stage and screen keeping the show thoroughly up to date. Taking drag from the doldrums to centre stage, it’s the drag show of the year!”

One by one they came down the stairs, one or two walking with sticks and an elderly man limping heavily. A beautiful young mother with a small child, no convenient baby-sitting granny available, roughly dragged the unresisting boy along. “Now, you sit still and BE QUIET,” she said, glaring at him fiercely.

The rest ranged in age from their twenties to mid-fifties; some held cocktails; others glasses of beer. Finding their seats they settled down.

“Jesus, another motley crew,’’ she thought, ‘Better tone the dirty jokes down a bit, the old ones don’t like too much smut, although the younger crowd just lap it up.”

Artificial smoke wafted gently across the stage, creating a feeling of glamour and mystery. The first chords of Queen’s, “We will survive” blared from the loudspeakers and the be-feathered high-stepping chorus-line swept into view.

Miss Poppy-Geranium Beauvisage took centre stage. Burnished black wig, extravagant sequinned purple evening dress, inch-long eyelashes, perfect make-up, scarlet talons. Beautifully turned out as usual, perfect hips and breasts and strict corseting to control the middle-age spread. Have to watch that. More hours on the treadmill.

“Hullo, darrrrlings,” she purred. “And how are we all today? Just lovely? Yes, I can see that you are – especially you, yes, you over there you naughty thing, just look at you.”

The audience craned to see the blushing woman who stood, keen to join the ribbing.

“Think you’re so special, hey? But you’re just a blonde bimbo from nowhere, baby! Nothing special about you.”

Quelling the six rugby forwards in the front row with a steely eye, mingling mild insults with smutty innuendo, she expertly worked the audience into party mood. Continuing her rapid-fire repartee with practiced charm, frequently breaking-off to lip-synch to popular songs, she swayed with the weight of the enormous purple ostrich-feather fan carried in a harness on her back. Panting with exertion, she tottered slightly on her three-inch spike heels.

Finishing her act, she swept backstage and the “girls” came back on. Dressed in gold spangles and enormous headdresses, they executed their fast-stepping routine. High-kicking and doing the splits they moved to the front. But wrinkles, eye-bags and mouths pursed with effort showed that the “girls’’ were finding it more difficult as the years passed. The well-muscled, gorgeously fit young studs gyrating across the stage drew “Ooohs” and “Aahs” from ladies itching to touch their bodies or join them on the stage or even better, invite them over for a drink later.

The loud, raucous music rose to a crescendo and Poppy-Geranium reappeared, this time dressed in a shimmering, gold-fringed mini. Singing in time to the popular divas of the day, she took off Beyonce, Tina Turner, Madonna, the coloratura soprano in the opera ‘Hannibal’ and many others, always remaining professional, always perfect. But there was something missing, something false, and despite the well-honed repartee and carefully choreographed routine it was an effort.

“God,” she thought. “Dunno why I keep on doing this. It’s a helluva life and keeping up with the others is getting more and more difficult. Some of them are nearly twenty years younger. I hate these new singers with their ghastly voices. No skills, no training. Just belt it out.”

“Shoes don’t fit, they’re only held together with elastic bands and the blisters on my toes and heels are bleeding. My scrotum is giving me gyp with the tight costumes. Punters always want to see our legs and keep hoping something will slip, and then they’ll really get their money’s worth. But we’re professionals, we know how to wear the stage clothes and how to tuck everything away, nothing ever goes wrong. Six shows a week, two on Sundays, and then back to selling car parts on Mondays - it’s bloody murder, but I gotta do it.”

Smiling broadly and fluttering his long eyelashes, he continued the routine, finishing with a chorus that brought the house down. Bowing low, he swept his arm in acknowledgement and as he pulled off his long dark wig the audience went wild.

“Forget the fluffs. For the next three months there’s no need to worry about little Tommy’s private school fees. I know they’ll keep me doing this as long as I still walk in these bloody spike heels.”

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