When you want to run away on a Sunday night as fast you can before Monday catches up with you, head to a drag show. The camp world of of glittery gold backdrops is the perfect school night escape.
And last weekend’s Bank Holiday meant London’s usual Sunday night drag shows were bigger, busier and boozier than usual.
I headed to the Two Brewers in Clapham for the Power of Four. That’s a marathon four drag acts over six hours, starting with the omnipresent Mary Mac.
My second favourite Scottish Queen (after Queen of Daytime, Lorraine Kelly), you can see Mary most weekends at the Admiral Duncan, the Brewers and other venues around town.
She’s prolific because she’s damn good and gets the gays through the doors. The Brewers front bar was packed by 6pm before the cloakroom even opened.
In some ways it’s a by-the-songbook drag act: a dress made from the sticky shiny paper you used in primary school collages, musicals mixed with nineties pop hits (Streisand followed by Steps) and snarky comments, always with love, about other queens and the audience.
And yet put altogether, it’s more than that. My words can’t tell you how awestruck and happy the familiarity of Mary’s show makes me.
The utter campness, love and laughter radiates form the stage to the crowd. I’ve felt that collective joy even on nights when I’ve been sober, by myself and awkwardly stood next to a bad hook up from the month before.
That love is easy for me to feel as a gay man in a venue that is 99% gay men. When I stand out among the grey or checked shirt dress code of Clapham Gays, and Mary tells me ‘it looks like Neil Buchanan puked on your shirt’, I’m in on the joke because I’m in the crowd.
But when acts make racist comments or sound like breakfast TV hosts in their attempt to turn non-binary identities into a joke (as the queen who followed Mary Mac did, in an otherwise entertaining show), they’re attacking people who are already excluded.
Half of BAME LGBT people and a third of trans people have faced discrimination within the LGBT community.
The Two Brewers is one of London’s very few fully step-free venues with an accessible toilet (but not gender neutral toilets) and it hosts an implausible amount of fundraising nights for LGBTQ community groups.
That good work doesn’t stop me feeling let down when someone on their stage is ridiculing a part of our community already under daily attack, for the sake of their punchline.
It’s hard for me to accurately review their acts, given how many doubles I’d had by then. They too have the wit, audience rapport and outstanding outfits.
Vivienne’s wig seemingly sheared from a sheep especially left me gasping, and her rendition of Defying Gravity brought back my young queer memories of trying to work out where I belong. Now I know it’s wathcing drag shows.
The Brewers’ front bar and stage turns into a dance floor between acts giving time for more Steps, Kylie and both versions of Better the Devil You Know. On busier nights the bigger backroom club is also open.
Unlike the front bar, you don’t need to use your elbows to get to a drink. Huge thanks must go to Liz, my yoga instructor, for giving me the core strength needed to stay standing amidst the bustling crowd pushing past you.
But the compromise with more space is worse music. The backroom club is usually playing a remix of a song that isn’t as good as what’s playing in the front bar, even when that better song is Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley.
By this time Mary Mac had already left, performed another show in Greenwich, changed out of her outfit and as promised returned to join us and judge us on the dancefloor.
And so it was at 2.30am, propping myself up against a pillar that that Mary spotted me and gave me that friendly smirk. Nine hours since I arrived I knew then there was no going back, only going home on the night bus.
Mary’s genuine love for performing and for her fans is obvious, bending over backwards to give the greatest show. It’s her signature encore that makes her a stand out act on the drag circuit.
Looking around the crowd, you can spot the wide mouthed first-timers taking the feat of performance endurance happening in front them. And you see the fans knowing exactly when to raise their phones to get that snap for Instragram.
You know they’re loving every second of it. They’ll be back to hear Mary perform the same kind of jokes and same kind of songs next week. And I want to be back there too.
The Cloakroom is £2 cash. They give you a wristband so no need to worry about losing your ticket.
The club Is free before 8pm and £5 afterwards on a normal Sunday, or £8 on a Bank Holiday Sunday.
The venue is one of London’s only fully accessible LGBTQ venues with step free entry and an accessible toilet downstairs.
Drinks are averagely priced around £5 for a pint. Doubles are served as standard, so you quickly spend £7.50 on one drink. The early evening Happy Hour on most days has £4.50 doubles.
It’s a venue dominated by gay man in their 20s, 30s and 40s. There’s no dress code, but the crowd tend to dress for going out out in a way I don’t.
The toilets are male toilets (with urinals and cubicles) and female toilets. On busier and weekend nights there are attendants offering you perfume or aftershave. There is an accessible toilet downstairs.
The songs you’ll always hear are Scared of the Dark by Steps, This is Me from The Greatest Showman and inspirational song of the millennium, Reach by S Club 7.
Joey’s kiss count: Two. I was genuinely surprised this was my first visit to the Brewers without someone I’d already kissed being there. There was however an Instagram crush I’d asked out before.