Drag Kings of the British Music Hall

Originally written for Just Gushing

Discussions about drag will usually include references to balls, Paris is Burning, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, maybe John Waters films. You could be forgiven for thinking that the drag scene started in America, in the 20th century, as a part of the art scene and intermixed with gay culture. In fact, Drag Kings and Queens had been strutting the boardwalks and music halls of Britain for centuries before Candy Darling came to town. Vesta Tilley – who I’ll introduce in a moment – provided for her family off a drag income since she was 11, in the 1800’s. Drag was at once controversial, and uncanny. In a time when women and men’s fashion and references were more distinct, drag’s scope for societal satire as well as character comedy was even wider.

Drag kings fell in popularity, and attention, over the 20th century, but they never left. Since the 21st century rolled round, there, so did a whole host of female Drag Kings, such as troupe/band/art collective The Kingpins, Queens, like Lolo Brow, and many other artists who use gender in their performance.

The Kingpins
The Kingpins
Lolo Brow
Lolo Brow

In a celebration of Sutton House‘s Women’s Season, and the old music hall drag kings Sarah Waters 1998 debut novel, and classic, Tipping the Velvet is showing on Friday 20th July. In honour of this, the Late Night Library Club, will be holding one of their immersive literary-themed evening events.

There will be performance, hosted by Rubyyy Jones; Carradine’s Cockney Sing-a-long; a Q&A exploring the themes of Drag Kings, Music Hall, identity and performance; as well as a presentation with Art Macabre.

In continuation of woman’s season The Amy Grimehouse’s presentation of Paris is Burning – Tudor Realness will be showing on 24th July, also at Sutton House.

In a Just Gushing celebration, we’ve written about one of our favourite music hall icons, Vesta Tilleyvesta


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