Bette Bourne & Paul Shaw: A Right Pair
Having an ego means you have no role models. You think you’re the one who everyone should look up to. I say this flippantly, but there is an element of truth here. This was all about to change when I stepped foot into a fringe theatre on a cold Sunday night in North London.
Bette Bourne and Paul (Pearle) Shaw are names I’ve heard thrown about since I was interested in the origins of my liberation. Both were a part of the Gay Liberation Front and members of the UK’s first alternative drag troupe Bloolips who I believe paved the way for queens like me to get on the tube in offkiltered drag without getting my head kicked in.
A Right Pair charts their journey through show business with monologues and turns from selected productions over 40 years. This work was rarely documented, so to be able to watch a re-enactment is a real treat. The monologues, tap numbers and conversation are intertwined with stories of how they met, fell in love and continue to love each other.
I could become gushy about how genius Bette’s comic timing, side ways glances and knowing looks are or how fantastic Pearle’s timely camp-cockney sensibility, characterization and pursing lips are, but this piece delivers much more than artistic merit – it gives hope.
I hate defining myself as a gay man, but for just this once – we don’t have role models in gay culture. Alan Carr, Gok Wan and Graham Norton are the face of public homosexuality in the UK – how disappointing is that? Bette and Pearle remind us that there are others to have faith in. They remind us that it wasn’t all hunky dory being a queer in the 50s/60s/70s, but they were brave, fought for equality and did the whole thing in frocks.
They remind us that long term, meaningful relationships are possible within our community – as they lovingly stare into each others eyes Pearle softly delivers a line that has me clutching at pearls ‘…sometimes you stare at each other after all this time and see each other through new eyes’.
As an effeminate, camp queen with a penchant for sequins and silly haircuts I was most effected by a quote from Bourne’s role as Quentin Crisp: ‘We don’t want to be noticed, we want to be recognized!’ – this is one of many quotes from this show that could find their way into your life as a mantra.
A Right Pair shows us how to live, why to be brave and what’s to live for.
Leaving the theatre that night after having my heart strings plucked and my laughter lines deepened I realize there are two wonderful artists I am happy to call role models – whatever that might mean.