The quaint upstairs theatre at The Marlborough is home, this festival time, to an equally quaint show entitled, A Right Pair. Featuring internationally renowned actor and drag artist, Bette Bourne, together with his partner, Paul Shaw, the piece is a whistle-stop tour through their life together, both on stage and off.
Bette was born… some time ago, in Hackney, London and, at a very early age, he discovered his love for the theatre, and for women’s clothes. He started work in The Garrick Theatre at the age of just 16 and studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama. During the 70s he was an active member of the newly-formed Gay Liberation Front and it was at this time that he changed his name (from his given name of Peter) and took up a full time career as a drag artist.
Soon after this he met the, 20 year old, Shaw and so began their lifetime together, and it is at this pint in their lives that the show begins. With just a couple of chairs on which to sit, but with a large number of costumes off-stage, the pair recount tales of their meeting, their working relationship and, although it seems that it went almost unnoticed when it started, their personal relationship.
After a successful start to his career in New York, working with a drag troupe called Hot Peaches, Bourne started his own company, Bloolips. This company was years ahead of it’s time and mainly performed hilarious spoofs of society and sexuality, usually in the most flamboyant and outrageous costumes. Shaw was also a member of the troupe, and they toured extensively together.
Throughout the show we dip on and out of their life and career together. We hear of their incredible productions Lust in Space and Get Hur, chuckle at their recollections of backstage dramas and diva moments and, luckily for us, we get to see some of Bourne’s most famous performances re-created right before our eyes.
Shaw seems quite happy to allow Bourne to take the limelight and, although his tales are incredibly amusing and well rehearsed, it is those famous scenes that the packed house, which includes Bourne’s younger brother the 60s pop star, and Are You Being Served actor, Mike Berry and Carry-On legend, Fenella Fielding, are there to see.
To rapturous applause, Bourne takes the stage as Lady Bracknell, a part he played in the English Touring Theatre production of The Importance of Being Earnest in 1995. Sporting the most amazing hat, as almost his only item of her famous costume, he sits and the pair work their way through the wonderful “handbag” scene.
Towards the end of the show Bourne reappears, this time in full costume, to give us just a taste of probably his most famous role, Quentin Crisp, a part he played in Tim Fountain’s 1999 play, Resident Alien at the Bush Theatre, London and around the world. The voice is perfect, the mannerisms well studied and it makes a fitting highlight to the show.
What we see on stage is not just a career history or a nostalgic look back it is, first and foremost, a love story. It is the tale of a lifelong partnership that is warm, witty and wonderfully camp.