It’s 1988 and queer London is partying hard under the spectre of AIDS, the scrutiny of the press and the shadow of Clause 28.
When Princess Diana dreams of a wild night out away from the long lenses of the paparazzi and the ruthless Royals at the Palace, best buddies Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett know there’s only one place to take her: the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
But getting one of the world’s most famous faces through the front door (and without blowing her cover) is the premise of brand new musical Royal Vauxhall, opening at the infamous venue later this month.We had a chat with one of the show’s leading men, Reuben Kaye, who steps into the shoes of Freddie Mercury, David Bowie and London drag icon Regina Fong…
Great to speak with you Reuben! You’re only a few weeks away now from opening night, what can you tell us about the show?
Well, It’s a brand new musical written by Desmond O’Connor, who is London cabaret royalty. He’s been performing all over the world and comparing throughout England and London’s cabaret scene over two decades. He’s written this story based on this apocryphal tale of Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett taking Princess Diana to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern as a drag king.
It’s a fictionalised, fabulous retelling of that night with original songs, and a lot of changing of hats, because it’s myself, Sarah Louise-Young (also London cabaret royalty) who play Princess Diana, and Stuart Saint as Kenny Everett. It’s just us three in the show, but Regina Fong makes an appearance, she’s one of London’s most famed drag queens of yesteryear, David Bowie and Margaret Thatcher – it’s an amazing sweep of British culture at that time.
The setting of 1988 certainly had some strong political undercurrents for the gay community at the time. Will this carry through into the musical?
I think it has to, Thatcher was so ironically unsympathetic towards homosexuality, incredibly so, yet half the Tories were closeted homosexuals. There was a lot of hypocrisy in the condemnation of homosexuality, despite how how widely spread it was, especially in the upper echelons of the government and in society in general.
Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett were really two people who suffered from that and yet completely flaunted it. Because Freddie was so open, without ever saying it, he was really well known in the gay scene. It was this weird thing, Kenny really pushed Queen into the spotlight by playing them on his radio program, and yet Kenny was also in the closet. Freddie was the one who brought him out and put him into the gay scene. So they were both monsters that made each other, which is a really interesting dynamic for Stuart and I to play off.
How has it been rehearsing and preparing to step into Freddie’s shoes so to speak?
Our director Russell Lucas is very funny and the show is somewhat abstract. There are bits that are really off-the-wall, because its celebrating club culture, and part of that late eighties club-kid kind of feel, and the kind of neo art scene, but it’s been really just laughter, a lot of laughter. Desmond’s music is beautiful, his lyrics are fantastic, and with these three characters, they are equal parts reality and parodies of themselves. Princess Diana, Freddie Mercury, Kenny Everett, they’re already incredibly intelligent people with incredibly high stakes.
The rapport between us all is fantastic. For Kenny and I, it’s just a bitchfest, but a really warm, loving funny bitchfest. We just laugh the whole time. Sarah Louise-Young as Princess Diana is scarily accurate and funny and sad and beautiful. I’m having the time of my life. But it’s also terrifying, because in the space of two hours, I play Freddie Mercury, Regina Fong and David Bowie. I’m pretty much playing all of the famous, dead, homosexuals and bisexuals.
And with just three of you carrying a full musical for two hours, it must be vocally demanding for you all?
Yeah it is, especially when it’s Freddie and David Bowie, and I’m singing as both and it’s rough, but at the same time I’m doing shows at Café de Paris, that feel like shoving grapefruits out of my throat. I’m doing that and still running around gigging, I got back from Berlin yesterday morning at 9am and went straight to a sound check for another gig last night, so I’m busy, but I can’t complain for being a busy artist. You should never complain about that.
And as the debut of the new musical, what’s the plan beyond February?
Because it’s a new piece of work, it’s really just something to put it on its feet. We’re throwing everything against the wall, and seeing what sticks, and seeing if this thing has a life, and if people are interested in it. If it’s a story people want to hear, if it’s something that is financially viable for our producers – we’re looking to get it expanded, make it a larger production, make it a longer run, find someone with money dare we say. My mother used to say, ‘you don’t have to suck the dick but you do have to roll it around in your mouth for the money’. So that’s kind of it, that’s what we’re after. i
What you say to people thinking of coming to see you in action?
If you love the music of Queen, if you love the music of Bowie, if you love London in the 80s, if you’re a royalist, if you not a royalist, if you want to laugh, if you want to cry a little bit, if you want to laugh and cry, then come and see the show. Come and see it, it’s a lot of fun.
Royal Vauxhall premieres at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on February 17 for four nights only. For more information including tickets visit the Royal Vauxhall Tavern website.
Performance Dates: February 17, 18, 24 & 25