Things have changed. A current drag trend in cities like London involves women dressing up - as women. These artists see the drag genre as an opportunity to play with expressions of so-called female gender constructs.
Welsh-born Ceri Dupree is old school drag queen. Born Ceri Richard Jones, he tossed out the Richard Jones bit and became Ceri Dupree.
In a tour to South Africa two years ago, at the Artscape Arena, he billed himself as an “international gender illusionist”. That description evokes what he does. He conjures up an array of famous women. Changing on stage, he morphs from one character to another.
Ceri, who is based in Cardiff, is hauling out of his kit of wigs and costumes for his show, FAAAAABULOUS, on from February 7-28, at cabaret club Gate 69, in Bree Street, CBD
I first saw Ceri Dupree performing at On Broadway in Green Point.
His first gig in South Africa was at Ratanga Junction’s The Officer’s Club. That was around 2000, he thinks.
What brought him from Wales to South Africa?
“A man saw my show in London and asked me to come to SA. I didn’t want to. I didn’t think I’d like it. A close friend said he’d always wanted to go, so he travelled with me. Of course we loved it.”
Seventeen years later and Ceri is poised to glide into Gate 69. He thinks this tour marks his 11th or 12th season to South Africa.
From the first time I saw Ceri I was mesmerised by the poignancy and pathos threaded through his impressions of famous women - living and dead.
He changed in front of the audience - putting on the false eyelashes, wigs, etc. For me, there has always been a sense of sad clown: performing for us - donning make-up and costumes - who wants our love and attention. Ceri lampoons and gets into bitchy mode but somehow there is respect.
“Yes, you are right. I adore all women I have impersonated over the years. Yes, you send them up but always in a tongue-in-cheek; naughty and in a wicked way. I am celebrating those larger-than-life fabulous gals. It is never done in a derogatory or misogynistic way. I’ve met a lot of them that I’ve done over the years - from Joan Rivers to Zsa Zsa Gabor - and most recently Joan Collins - what a gal.”
In his last show at Artscape two years ago, Ceri changed behind a screen which added an air of mystery. We watched to see what would emerge from the fuzzy images projected from behind the screen.
Will Ceri be using the screen at Gate 69?
“Yes, the screen is more effective as you see only shapes, so you are not giving anything or I should say too much away as to who the next character could be: no colours. People see big hair and think Dolly Parton, but it could be Pam Anderson or Cher or Lady Gaga.”
What drew him to the genre of drag?
“It’s a boring cliché but I was the school comic. I impersonated the teachers.
In a school concert someone played the violin and harp; read a poem; sang a song; did a dance. I got up with a handbag and did Mrs Thatcher.”
The surname Dupree was pulled out of a hat by his flat mate at the time - from a selection of randomly selected names.
The layering of the characters, together with snappy scripting, chit-chat with the audience; extravagant costumes adds up a class act. There is no lip syncing. It is Ceri Dupree’s voice we hear.
Gate 69 is a tailor made setting for the Ceri Dupree fabulosity to shine.
* Tickets are from R450 to R595 includes mezze platter, soup, breads and ice cream. Bookings www.gate69.co.za/ 021 0351627.