Although it's been a firm favourite at the Brighton Fringe for many years now, the Ladyboys of Bangkok show has now graduated to a full-scale theatre production and is currently travelling the length and breadth of the country to introduce a brand new audience to this Far Eastern phenomenon.
A theatre setting, it has to be said, does not lend itself as well as the more familiar Thai Pavillion tent in which the show is usually performed. There isn’t the same warm welcome that usually greets the incoming audience as they make their way through the foyer and into the main auditorium but, as the lights go down and the compère stresses that we are about to witness a show starring 16 male performers, the excitement is at fever pitch.
As the curtain opens his words are blown away, as is the audience, because on stage are 11 stunning “women” and five boy dancers. The illusion is a fundamental part of the Ladyboys success and is what makes their show so appealing. The performers mime to music by the original artists and, to be brutally honest, the lip sync work is not great, but the absolutely stunning costumes, brilliant lighting effects and energetic choreography easily compensate for this.
The songs are all either recent chart-toppers or Karaoke classics and soon the audience is singing along, but the barrier between stage and audience is never really broken down and the intimacy of the performance is somewhat diminished.
There is a lot of comedy in this year’s show and some of it is certainly 15+ material. The boys take "Walking in a winter wonderland" and deliver it back as "Walking round in women’s underwear", Katy Perry’s "Fireworks" is given a whole new meaning and even Victoria Wood gets the Ladyboys treatment with her superb "I can’t do it" making an unexpected appearance.
Halfway through Act One we are introduced to the gold- painted Chinese acrobat Sha Bing. Performing, as the speciality act, for the first time outside his native country, he displays a strength and power that is quite simply breathtaking. The audience watch, in stunned silence, as, on a metal pole, he lifts himself high above the stage to perform jaw-dropping feats of the most amazing strength and dexterity.
The parade of divas includes [Beyoncé], Lady Gaga, Shirley Bassey and Cher, with the boy dancers treating us to Olly Murs and Ricky Martin. The tempo and party atmosphere are kept high with hits by Steps, Gloria Gaynor and The Weather Girls paving the way for the boys to return with The Village People’s "Y.M.C.A". After a quick change they return with a Queen medley before we head to Rio for the Carnival Queens finale.
The Ladyboys all have stage names as well as their own male names and although they are all absolutely fantastic lookalikes and superb performers, it is Ole Decha Nuchangsing who wows as both Whoopi Goldberg, from Sister Act and Tina Turner with Oak Taweesak Samdangrit taking the boys' crown for his supremely enthusiastic portrayal of Freddie Mercury.
Carnival Queens was a massive hit at this year’s Brighton Fringe and it is wonderful that so many new venues are getting the chance to experience this fantastic performance.