Acerbic barmaid-turned-wannabe cabaret star Myra Dubois is a familiar face around the London circuit. Combining an earthy manner and sharp-tongued putdowns with kooky dance routines, Myra (aka Gareth Joyner) has a new show called "From Rotherham With Love..." which will part of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern's Hot August Fringe running from 25 July to 26 August.
Tell us about your new show.
"From Rotherham With Love" is the result of being on the London cabaret scene as "Myra DuBois" for three years. It’s putting a context on the material I’ve collected and answers a few questions that have arisen along the way. Why is she so bitter, why does she choose to perform in cabaret and why did she leave the North?
There is also a dance piece by East London dance troupe "Figs in Wigs" which takes inspiration from both 60s musical theatre and a night out in a Rotherham. Think "Bob Fosse" with kebabs and an argument in the street.
What was the inspiration for the show?
The inspiration is largely autobiographical. Like Myra, I also worked as a glass collector in a working men’s club. I also dabbled in amateur dramatics and I also moved from Rotherham to London. She’s a character with her own back story that differs from mine, and the show explores that, but in many ways Myra is an ‘alter ego’. An extension of myself that allows me to poke fun at a few things without being too self deprecating.
How would you characterise the current London drag scene?
Varied. It can go from self-confessed blokes in sequined dresses singing 80s medleys in a pub full of appreciative gays to bearded homosexuals with hairy legs and neon wigs rolling around an east London disco. It all has its place, and I have my preferences, but ‘varied’ is the word.
Personally I think what I do comes from more of a theatrical slant, and is more from the Dan Leno, Mrs Shufflewick, Dame Edna school of character based drag and as a result I’ve found more work on the Cabaret circuit. I seem to be more in trend with the ‘cabaret’ scene than the ‘drag’ scene.
It seems that drag is being supplanted to some extent by burlesque. Would you agree?
No I wouldn’t. They’re very separate arenas with little cross-over in audience in London. When I worked more in burlesque/cabaret, compering and so on, I think I was one of few straight-up drag acts about in that particular scene. I can think of two others, but our paths have never crossed. Conversely, drag venues such as the Black Cap rarely, if ever, book burlesque. So I wouldn’t say one is replacing the other.
Is this the price of cabaret getting bigger and/or going mainstream?
I don’t believe cabaret has become bigger or gone more mainstream. I’m disagreeing with you a lot aren’t I? It’s certainly become more stylised, and I think the re-emergence of burlesque had something to do with that, so perhaps it’s easier to identify and label. But cabaret and its artistes has always had mainstream presence, and there’s always been an underbelly to that. I don’t think this ratio has changed. From the music halls to the often-referenced Weimar Berlin period through the working men’s clubs to performance art and onto Saturday night television.
There was a very interesting documentary on the subject a few months ago on BBC Radio 2 which I encourage you to seek out and listen to. You might as well, you’ve already paid for it.
What is Myra's favourite after-gig tipple?
A gin and tonic. Which is also her favourite pre-gig tipple. Gin is Myra’s signature drink. Which has a lot to do with it being Gareth’s favourite drink.
How do you go about choosing your onstage outfits?
I buy a lot of second hand clothes from charity shops, vintage retailers and the old faithful eBay. I like Myra’s outfits to look "lived in". They’ll have been hanging in her wardrobe for years whilst she’s been touring the club circuit up north so they should never look box fresh. The frock she’s wearing on the flyer even has a few moths holes to it’s name. I also stick to a basic colour scheme of black and gold for her. Mainly because I find this aesthetically pleasing, but also because it’s quite traditionally "showbiz" for the slightly older woman. You have to keep in mind what each outfit communicates, what will have been going through Myra’s head when she dressed herself?
When preparing backstage for a show, what is your most essential bit of kit?
The right make up, without a doubt. Before any big show I always have an anxiety dream and it’s always the same. I’m preparing for the show in question and I open my make up bag to find there’s nothing in it! The horror! This then prompts a mad dash around backstage trying to do my face with materials I have to hand. Crayons, dirt and bits of coal have all featured. In the dream this always leads to me being late on stage and the audience all hate me for it. Lordy, I’m breaking into a cold sweat just talking about it!
Tell us what it was like coming to London. What were your first impressions?
When I first moved to London I went straight to nightclubs such as The Cock, Antisocial (which was co-ran by fellow Eat Your Heart Out member Scottee) and Nag Nag Nag which gave me an overwhelming creative buzz of ‘anything is possible’. I started to mince about with no eyebrows and blonde hair extensions writing poetry. All a bit naff in retrospect. What I do now is much more disciplined and as a result it has found an audience, which was enabled by the boom of the cabaret scene in London. I think had I stayed in Rotherham then Myra would never have happened.
Jonny Woo has spoken about the physical toll of being a performer which resulted in him being hospitalised for multiple organ failure in 2006. How close to the edge have you sailed in your career?
I think that’s taking Jonny’s show on the subject ("International Women of Mister E") a little out of context. He was hospitalised because he was taking drugs and drinking a lot at the time. Not because he wore high heels.
I have had a word with myself on the perils of working in ‘Cabaret’. Working till the early hours of the morning surrounded by drunk people whilst being giving free drinks in nightclubs and bars has its temptations. It would be very easy to develop a drinking problem in this business. But that’s also something that is addressed in "From Rotherham…" because Myra is also a cabaret performer, which allows me to be quite self referential.
Of course, you can end up with sore feet and bad skin from all the high heels and make up but I doubt I’ll be costing the NHS anything due to drag any time soon.
Given a thousand quid and no work the next day, what would be your ultimate night out in London?
Now you’re talking! I’d gather a group of my funniest friends together (I hope they worry about their inclusion when they read this) for a meal of my choice. It’s my money after all. Then I’d buy us all tickets to the theatre because I’m a theatre junkie! Especially when it comes to Musicals.
I would also hire a giant pink Hummer to take us so we could wind down the windows and scream like mad slags all the way there. Then afterwards I’d throw a party (because there doesn’t seem to be a nightclub that caters to all my friends) with carefully selected acts, DJs and a free bar. Then I’d book us into a hotel so we could have a nice hung over breakfast together in the morning.
That, or I’d take two friends for a beer and a burger in Wetherspoons and spend the rest on eBay.
Have you had any interesting heckles?
I don’t really seem to get heckled. The conversational style I use with an audience doesn‘t lend itself to heckling; I open up the avenues for them to talk to me anyway.Of course, now this is "on the net" I’m going to get it nightly aren’t I?
Finally, tell us something about Rotherham that would make Londoners fall in love with the place.
It costs around £1.60 for a double gin in the local Public Houses. I think I’ve made my point.
Myra's show "From Rotherham With Love" can be seen at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on 10 and 11 August.