Oct 11, 2011

Gardenia at the Gaiety – Sequins, Stilettos and Stripping Bare

The Gaiety is a Dublin institution that means something to everybody in this city. Blood red and yellow gold, its dizzying balconies and velvet drapes are pure vaudeville. The Gaiety,Dublin’s longest established theatre, has retained a dusty nostalgia and sitting under the giant chandelier I’m transported back to my youth. No, not Victorian times! But to my college days and late nights, all danced out on Gaiety Saturdays, hiding out in the upper circle with herbal cigarettes filling the air… Last night I was back on South King Street for Gardenia by Les ballet C de la B.

On first glance Gardenia looked like a bit of a laugh, so I picked up a last call ticket from Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival box office in Temple Bar. Watch out for daily updates on their Facebook page. I knew the production was about a bunch of aging drag queens and somehow had an all dancing, all singing Pricilla Queen of the Desert scenario in mind. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Gardenia was surprising, at times shocking, very rude, very beautiful and certainly sad. The music, the cabaret and the downright bizarre bits knitted together a lucid message about femininity.

Created and performed by Vanessa Van Durme, who has openly spoken about her sex change, the play opened with herself and a troupe of ancient former dancers moving arthritically in their suits. Van Durme announced the demise of their glittery club Gardenia and introduced her cohorts, including Lady Fuckmesilly, Shirley Nightingale and Gina delRio. Unafraid of frank statement and filthy jokes Van Durme, in her inimitable sweet gruff voice, made the audience blush as much as laugh. Then the pinstripes came of, the frills were revealed and the men came alive.

What transpired was indeed very strange, a spectacle of moves, sounds and humanity. But what was remarkable was the awe with which the cast injected life into their female alter egos. Not just tarts with hearts but real understanding, love and tenderness. All of those qualities that have hardened up in our Post Feminist world. Acted out by men they seem so obvious – the ritual of applying make up, the feel of silk against skin, the gentle brushing of hair. Although Gardenia confronts homosexuality, transvestism and sex it explores femininity through the male lens.

The show is equally jarring and touching, helped by French and German soundtracks that echo a war time when the men would have been young. Perhaps their youthful selves are represented by the haunting Hendrik Lebon, whose ballet is mesmerising with comedy moments interweaving acrobatic skill. His scuffles with Griet Debacker, the only born female, were violent and moving. His struggle mirrored that of his older stage mates, lonely and bitter but transformed by their wigs and rouge. Hendrik’s feminine grace and hormonal flux told of the inner yin that that these men so craved.

It was a blue Monday, that I’d been hoping to turn pink, but instead Gardenia inspired a rainbow. And the pot of gold is being a woman. Females have been stripped bare of our true femininity by anti aging gunk, fashion magazines and Weight Watchers. I find it hilarious that it’s taken a bunch of aul fellas in full mother of the bride get up to point out what’s been under our noses the whole time. So ladies don’t iron your curls. Slip on a tea dress, add red lipstick and kick up your heels. Celebrate being a woman – not a dolly bird or a door mat. Know you are beautiful.

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