We sat down with Bonnie & The Bonnette’s, stars of 96 Festival highlight Drag Me To Love. Read the interview below where we talk about art, drag and 96 Festival.
Omnibus Theatre: What inspired the concept of Bonnie and The Bonnettes, how did you begin to develop your characters?
Bonnie & The Bonnettes: The show concept came before the characters, and us as a trio. This has been the great thing about making this show. We knew we wanted to tell Cameron’s story but we had no idea how. A big part of our making was creating the world for the story to sit in, then the characters to live in it. Since it is an autobiographical story, we wanted to create a space that brought the club that Cameron used to work in back to life. It’s dingy. It’s sticky. It’s smells of sweat, cheap cocktails, and hairspray. But it’s beautiful. A glittery beacon of hope, power, and expression for a boy from Doncaster. It’s a space that moves with the story, following Cameron as he throws himself into a pair of 6-inch stilettos. It’s being back at school. It’s being at the club. On a train. In toilets. On stage. In the dressing rooms. At university. Then back to the stage.
It’s the job of our characters to navigate the audience through this and we love doing it! We are very proud mums! The characters are heightened versions of ourselves. We wanted to place ourselves in this world. This is where the concept of Bonnie and The Bonnettes was born. We each contribute to telling the story but comment on it from different perspectives. There are also other characters that we meet on the way too; a chain-smoking bar owner called Elaine, a fiercely protective drag mum called Darcy, and an older bitter queen called Veronica.
Our characters have evolved, grown up, and found themselves in the two years the show has been in the making for, as well various cabaret gigs that we do. We are constantly finding new things about them, creating new traits, battling new inner turmoil’s, and even finding an obsession with Josh Groban!
OT: What can audiences coming to see Drag Me to Love expect and how would you like audiences to feel when they leave the theatre?
B&TB: At its heart, Drag Me to Love is about identity, perseverance, and self-expression. It’s not a totally positive story but we like to think it has a cheeky charm. A smile. It’s a story told through drag performance and everything that comes with it; make-up, costumes, flashing lights, power stances, dance numbers, 80’s pop anthems, and glitter! Oh, there is also a spot of BONNIE TYLER! It’s the ultimate night out that speaks to anyone who has ever been the outcast, ever questioned themselves, or ever being unsure of who they are. It’s for those who dance in the kitchen to Tina Turner, those who cannot hold back on eyeliner, and those who find glitter in weird places after a night out! It’s cheesy, but we want people to leave the theatre loving themselves a little bit more and as if they have the tools (and songs) to which they can take on the world outside!
OT: Which artists do you love the most right now?
B&TB: Our reference points come from everywhere. It can be a song, a film, an image, the way someone walks, or a story we tell each other. To pick a few artists we are loving, it would have to start with RASHDASH because they make us want to rebel. In Bed with my Brother because they make us want to make lots of noise and dance. Figs in Wigs because they can pull off the colour green (we can’t). We also loved How to Win Against History by Seiriol Davies as it makes us want to look into our history and find out things, ask questions, and wear more dresses!
We also run a seasonal queer/alternative cabaret night in Newcastle at Alphabetti Theatre called The BonBons Cabaret. It features various incredible artists and they constantly surprise us with what they come up with and how their brains work. As a region of artists we have lots to say and it’s great to be part of providing a platform for their work.
OT: What role do the arts have to play in celebrating and progressing queer culture?
B&TB: Everything. The arts are a space for us to reveal something about ourselves, tell our stories, and represent our communities. Though, it is down to us to be both celebratory and progressive in the ways in which we do these things. For us, it’s not just about being on stage and being queer but rather to share something, offer something, or reveal something. This is what queerness is to us. We now have control and as such there is a responsibility to represent our communities and culture in a way that is fun, exciting, and honest. This does not mean leaving out the negatives but rather paying attention to the whole experience. How does this personal story represent the wider community?
This is something we were aware of when making Drag Me to Love. Yes, we wanted to offer an insight into a particular story and allow for that to reflect on drag culture. But, the story is much more than this. It is about human experience and this is something that is relatable to all. It is about identity, gender, youth, hope, and self-expression. We wanted to use Cameron’s accounts to allow for a representation of a male LGBTQ+ identity that is raw, honest, and celebratory. Drag culture allows for play, expression, and illusion and this piece comments on Cameron’s journey as he wrestles with who he should be and the creation of an alter ego. Through this we wanted to challenge the preconceived ideas surrounding drag performance, educating audiences, and allowing this story to celebrate wider drag/queer culture.
OT: Tell us a bit about your upcoming project and She…
B&TB: It’s our second show and we are very excited! Moving onto our second show we wanted to stay in the in the realms of auto/biography, but in a totally different world – our mums. We want to explore the identities/relationships/communities of a different era as we tell their stories, dance to their music, and share their views on the world. We wanted to ask how can we take our mums stories/views and put them in our world of queer performance and storytelling? We want to talk about their hopes, their regrets, and their views on the world. From women’s liberation, LGBTQ+ rights, having children, and settling down in retirement.
The initial research period for this show was supported by the NEADN scheme with a residency at Gala Theatre (Durham). During this week our mum’s came into the space with us. We recorded interviews, conversations, and discussions which we are now transcribing (there is a lot!). We will be using as the foundations of the piece. It will be their coming-of-age story and it will be the longest cup of tea we have ever had with our mums.
Drag Me To Love is bringing the sparkle to Omnibus Theatre Sat 3 Feb, grab your glitter and buy your ticket by clicking here.