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Q&A: Jonny Woo on his Un-Royal Variety Show

Photo © Simon Phipps

With a line-up of some of the greatest talents in cabaret, dance, queer and fringe theatre, Jonny Woo's Un-Royal Variety show returns to the Hackney Empire stage. Held over two nights, this year’s Un-Royal Variety promises to be an even bigger and bolder extravaganza than the last. Run Riot talks to the fabulous ringleader about the show and life in the drag scene.

Eli Goldstone: Hi Jonny, let's talk about your Un-Royal Variety Show! Who are you looking forward to joining you on stage this year? 

Jonny Woo: Well we have loads of my pals from last year taking part so it's without question that I can't wait to welcome them back, but new headlines I'm thrilled to be working with are Christeene, from Texas who is going to make a really special show for us and Lucy Mc Cormick who is one of my favourite UK performers who will be premiering brand new material. I have no idea what it will be, but if Triple Threat is anything to go by it will be provocative, punk and pure thrill! Also my pals' band Nostalgia Of Mothership are kicking off the second act and I'm excited to be giving some new musical talent such a big stage. 

Eli: The show brings together so many shining lights of the drag and cabaret scene, is it nice to get everyone together for a little staged anarchy? 

Jonny: It's a pure joy and dream come true for me and they are all shining lights on the cabaret scene, worldwide, literally. They are all in some way breaking into mainstream culture and are literally the hottest talents about. This year everyone is on board much sooner so its a chance to stage it together so I can help them realise their visions. I'm super excited about working with Richard Thomas again (composer of Jerry Springer The Opera). We are writing at least 4 big new numbers plus a very special duet for me and my buddy Le Gateaux Chocolat. 

Photo © Simon Phipps

Eli: How did giving up drink and drugs affect your relationships with your drag family? 

Jonny: It made it stronger. I'm more present and able to deliver. My life was slipping into a drain of nothing. It wasn't fun or funny for me in the end. I was soooooo over it. The opportunities I have now are amazing and I'm able to take on and realise much more ambitious projects. It has benefited me in so many ways and made me able to provide stages for loads of new faces. All my old sisters are still around, a few in recovery too. 

Eli: What sort of changes are you witnessing for kids who are getting into drag now? 

Jonny: They are hungry for it. They have a lot of drive. They are influenced a lot by Rupaul's Drag Race and celebrity and the internet. They are also really savvy re gender politics and identity and politics as a whole. Its a new energy. 

Eli: The mainstream success of RuPaul's Drag Race has brought drag a lot of new fans - do you think it's being properly recognised as an artform yet? 

Jonny: Yeah, of course it is. It will always be underground to an extent and will always be niche, but it's enjoying a moment in the sunshine of the media spotlight. Drag is a very varied art for, sometimes it's trashy, sometimes superficial, sometimes deeply profound and moving. Sometimes it's misplaced and often it's life affirming. Whether the camera is on it or not it will always be vital and evolving.

Photo © Angus Stewart

Eli: What are you working on next? 

Jonny: Ha ha, isn't this enough?! I'm doing a play with Alexis Gregory at The Glory straight after then I'm touring Oz and NZ with Le Gateaux. 

Eli: Finally, which member of the royal family would you take to the Un-Royal Variety? 

Jonny: Pippa Middleton. She's not really a royal I guess but I bet she'd do balloons in the royal box and her billionaire hubby could pay the drinks tab....for everyone!

 

Jonny Woo's Un-Royal Variety 

Hackney Empire

3rd & 4th November

 

@JonnyWooUK