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When David met Lavinia

[Photo Credit: Lavinia Co-op by Justin David & David Meyer]

David Meyer, a founding member of the Lindsay Kemp Company, meets Lavinia Co-op, a founding member of the Bloolips Theatre Company. The two star opposite each other in SwanSong, a new play by Nathan Evans at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern as part of And What? Queer. Arts. Festival.

David: So, we meet again…

Lavinia: Well, we just said ‘hello’ before. At the King’s Head, in the summer.

David: Yes. But, of course, I’d just heard your life story on stage from Alexis Gregory.

Lavinia: A bit of my life story. He did the verbatim about the drag and the seventies.

David: I think I must have been living in Notting Hill at about the same time as you.

Lavinia: Everyone lived in Notting Hill back then. So, you were with Lindsay Kemp?

David: Indeed. Our first show was Genet’s The Maids at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, with Lindsay playing Madame. My twin brother and I were Clare and Solange. We were going to transfer to The Bush Theatre, which had just opened in London. But we couldn’t get the rights, so we had one fabulous gala night and that was it. The Bush asked Lindsay, What else have you got? And we put on Flowers, another piece inspired by Genet. That’s when the company formed. Within a year, we were on Broadway.

Lavinia: Amazing. I saw you in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

David: And I saw you in - fabulous title - The Island of Lost Shoes.

Lavinia: Oh, you saw that one.

David: What was your aim? Was it just to entertain, or did you have an agenda?

Lavinia: With the Bloolips, it’s drag. It’s camp and colourful and cheery and all that. But then sometimes there’s the punch underneath it.

David: Lindsay was never political. It was about the movement and the style. But the fact that it involved men, together, was a statement. And it did change lives – people felt empowered by seeing it.

Lavinia: We’d seen The Hot Peaches. That’s what empowered us. Bette Bourne got it all together and we started at the Tabernacle with The Ugly Duckling. I was the duckling. And the duckling’s not ugly he’s a swan. Then we did Marie Maisonblanche, where we all did auditions for Mary Whitehouse and everything was wrong. We got a show on here and there in London. Then we got to Amsterdam.

David: And when did you get to America?

Lavinia: When we did Lust in Space—about going to the moon and the Russians—we did the Festival of Fools and gambled our takings on a ticket to New York. We started in a loft. Then Theatre for the New City turned up. They put us on for about three months. Then someone else picked us up off-Broadway, got us papers and we did four months. Then San Francisco…

David: Both companies spent a lot of time abroad. Lindsay was an artist in exile. The Latin countries particularly loved his theatricality. The spectacle. He’d just come back for a season to Sadler’s Wells.

Lavinia: It’s true. In England, you weren’t making any money. But Germany, it was better. And Holland. When we came back from the states, we had a New York Times review and it was like, Oh… So that’s how we got on a lot better in this country.

David: Lindsay gave physical theatre a kick up the posterior. Shared Experience was formed the year after. David Bowie had worked with Lindsay back in the sixties. Lindsay taught him the power of stillness. And make-up. Punks, New Romantics, Boy George. All Lyndsey’s children. Or grandchildren. Through Great Uncle Bowie.

Lavinia: With the make-up, I think of Leigh Bowery. Bloolips did white face as a way of bringing us all together and then you could paint on it what you like.

David: Speaking of descendants… In the past, homosexuality was a secret society. You couldn’t explore it. But I’ve seen a lot of plays recently where you have two generations talking about it to each other. Which has never happened before. And the younger generation disagree with the older, just as children disagree with their parents. You have to find your own path. Give yourself another agenda.

Lavinia: With the youngsters, it’s as if they’re having a new revolution. When I was young, I was just as angry about people not knowing what it was all about. Some people say to me, you were ahead. You did it all. We owe so much to you. And I say, well it wasn’t just me. There were lots of us and a lot dead. I think that’s what Gay Liberation did. It said, no, we’ve got to come out on the streets.

David: I went out on the streets because that was part of the fun of it. Gay Liberation was just my life, so to speak.

Lavinia: There’s a book called The Trouble with Normal I read. About how gays have changed over time. They’re trying to normalise us. But his premise is we’re different. And if we’re trying to be like everyone else, we’re losing a hell of a lot of what we’re about.

David: Gay has been assimilated into the mainstream.

Lavinia: But to my family, I’m still different. We’re not like that. We’ve got children. We bring them up nice. And we like you. We love you. But… They can’t get it. The horror of being isolated. Hated. Because they’re heterosexual and they’re the way they are. So I can see how it would be in care homes. Definitely. But my character in SwanSong is not going to take it. Not going to give a shit. Joan won’t change for anyone.

David: Jim’s not good at being alone. He strikes up a relationship with the first available person.

Lavinia: And Joan will go for anything, in a way. He’s probably been very promiscuous.

David: Jim is a one-person person.

Lavinia: Joan would swing from every chandelier.

David: Ha! I’m interested in playing a gay character. Because I haven’t played very many. Early on there was some gay stuff. Then it was mostly Shakespeare. And James Bond villains. You don’t get a lot of parts for older people. Especially not older gay people. And exploring that is going to be wonderful.

Lavinia: I’m looking forward to working with you. And working out how to get these ideas across.

A gentleman called Joan lands in a subdued, suburban care home like a colourful combustible cocktail then, in this most unlikely of settings, is offered love by a gentleman called Jim…
Wednesday 17th October, doors 19:00, show 20:00
Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, London SE11 5HY
www.vauxhalltavern.com £10, (concessions £8), £1 booking fee