INTERVIEW: Bonnie and the Bonnettes – Drag Me To Love 2021 | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by TJMOV

Fresh from invigorating the late-stage lockdown with Boogie on Up, a foot-stomping, glitter-drenched, eight-part series of searing online drag performances, the irrepressible Bonnie and the Bonnettes are gearing up for a return to live audiences with a revival of debut show Drag Me to Love.

Originally toured nationally between 2017 and 2018, the autobiographical Drag Me to Love splashes drag performance and theatrical storytelling across a backdrop of pop anthems, glitter, and working-class Doncaster. Conjuring the world of a 14-year-old drag queen, is a tale about being uncertain of your identity, creating a new one, and finding a safe place between the two.

Created by Cameron Sharp (Bonnie Love), Hattie Eason, and Becky Glendenning (the Bonnettes), the Drag Me to Love comeback is happening at Paines Plough Roundabout in Byker, which pops up from Thursday 12th-Sunday 15th August (in partnership with Northern Stage). The world’s first pop-up, plug-and-play theatre, Paines Plough is a touring company dedicated to new writing, with a mission to discover, develop and empower writers and share their stories.

I caught up with Bonnette Hattie Eason during preparation for the return of Drag Me To Love to find out about the trio reimagining their debut work. With less than a month to go, the Somerset-born queer theatre-maker, performer, and facilitator couldn’t be more excited.

“It’s back! And what a journey it’s been. Over the first lockdown, we decided we wanted to revisit our first show and bring a fresh, more mature approach to it. We were in university the first time round, and we wanted to approach the show again now we’re older and have more experience under our belts. Then, when the incredible Paines Plough offered for it to be one of the shows on their touring programme this year, we couldn’t say no!”

Drag Me to Love follows Cameron Sharp gearing up in six-inch stilettos to make friends and foes in a captivating and vulnerable journey through the world of drag—a world where not everything is as it seems. An unforgettable story that will steal the hearts of audiences coming in fresh, fans of the original production can also look forward to plenty of new surprises.

“There are more characters, more singing, some more funky dance moves, and a lot of music!” Enthused Hattie. “A lot has changed, we won’t lie, but the heart of the show is very much the same. The glitter throwing, pant wetting, foot-stomping cabaret riot hasn’t gone anywhere; it’s just grown up a bit.”

Still packed with plenty of old favourite dance numbers, characters, and parts of the show people will love and recognise from the first time around, the show also includes a load of new material. Yet, Hattie assures us that the Bonnie and the Bonnettes passion for communication, celebration, and a shared experience remains intact amongst all of this change.

“Don’t worry, we’re still the playful, mess-making, ribbon dancing trio from the first time, and we really hope audiences take it to their hearts again. We certainly have!”

An autobiographical tale of expression, glamour and power set in 2009, Drag Me to Love leans into the real-life truths and histories of Bonnie and the Bonnettes to fuel its creation

An autobiographical tale of expression, glamour and power set in 2009, Drag Me to Love leans into the real-life truths and histories of Bonnie and the Bonnettes to fuel its creation. This time, the team dug even deeper to make the show more searingly personal than ever.

“It’s about Cameron and him becoming a drag queen in Sheffield ages 14 to 18. It’s also finding yourself, finding where you belong, and that you don’t always have to have it figured out. In this version, there are darker topics we felt unequipped to handle before that we, and Cameron as the writer, felt able to approach this time around.”

Co-founder and producer of Bonnie and The Bonnettes, Cameron Sharp is a queer theatre-maker and associate artist at Live Theatre, whose work is primarily influenced by storytelling, gender, and sexuality. A self-confessed magpie attracted to all things that sparkle, Cameron has worked as a drag performer over the last five years under the irrepressible persona of Bonnie Love.

“We thought a lot whilst making the show about growing up in small towns,” recalls Hattie, “and the excitement of learning about who you are, especially as a teenager. We think Cameron’s done an amazing job rewriting the script with this new approach, and we can’t wait for people to see it!”

Drag Me to Love is all about a real person discovering themselves, igniting the fire in their belly, and becoming actualised. Hattie has always enjoyed creating work about real people and authentic experiences, and she has some advice for people inspired by the show looking to drag themselves to love too.

“Do it! If drag is something you want to try, there are so many routes in and whatever way feels right is the right way! There are plenty of workshops, groups and sessions, including some of our very own in the near future that can help you figure out what drag or cabaret personas and characters look and feel like for you in a safe and supportive space. This goes for drag queens, drag kings and drag things, and there are a number of lovely groups and collectives such as us and our friends at Pecs Drag Kings, who make space for you to find that. It’s all about having fun and feeling good about yourself; everyone deserves that!”

Fellow co-founder Rebecca Glendenning’s work is influenced heavily by politics and sexuality, and she brings her talent as a theatre maker who challenges classic narrative tropes and structures to bear in the work of Bonnie and the Bonnettes. From their beginning, the troupe’s work has been infused with working-class identity and a drive to explode lazy tropes that see those from lower socio-economic backgrounds negatively depicted, stereotyped, and ridiculed. Committed to telling these stories in a creative scene where such identities are too often reduced to side characters or political and comical tools, for Hattie, working-class voices are vital to the industry and its survival.

“We cannot stress enough how important they are and always have been to art and culture. We think it’s important to talk about how much work has to be done by us in the industry to make the arts more accessible to everyone, including working-class people. Coming from working-class homes in different parts of the country, we feel like working-class folk often have to work twice as hard for half the opportunities, starting at access to arts through education and in communities. In an industry stereotyped for belonging to the middle and upper classes, we need to own our working-class narratives and make space for others to share theirs. To tell working-class stories, by us, for us, through our lens.”

Keenly feeling the lack of representation of working-class people in the arts, Hattie is passionate about the death of these voices in queer culture more broadly, and the need for makers to move away from drab and tragic tales set in these underrepresented communities.

“Working-class voices are lacking everywhere! But yes, they are lacking in queer culture. There are a few stories about working-class queer folk, but they’re often really sad and tragic. Those narratives are important and deserve to be heard, but there’s so much more to our experience than that. We want to see working-class queer joy! Excitement! Love! Triumph! We deserve that. We need that.”

In March this year Bonnie and the Bonnettes exploded onto YouTube with Boogie on Up, a free series of drag performances made in collaboration with Live Theatre. Including fresh takes on Candyman, I Need a Hero, You Raise Me Up and more, the shorts were designed to get feet stomping and tail feathers shaking in bedrooms, home offices, and wherever viewers may be. So how does Hattie feel looking back on this series that left viewers describing them as ‘the heroes that 2021 needs’?

“A bit knackered looking at all those dances! No, no, we’re really proud of it. The work we were able to do with our videographer TJMOV is something we’re really glad to have achieved, especially with Covid restrictions. But it was still so much fun! Each one was its own little world, and we had an absolute riot creating each and every one of them. If you haven’t watched them already, make sure to head over to our YouTube channel to watch all eight for free!”

While the constraints of lockdown inspired the inception of Boogie on Up, video work like this may not be just a remnant of the Covid-era.

“It’s creation came very much from the pandemic, it’s safe to say, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll stay there. We love performing live and all the laughter, chaos, and excitement that happens at our live shows but with Boogie On Up, we really enjoyed creating these little pockets of joy for people. We think it’s safe to say video work is still on the cards, but at the moment, we’re excited to get back to performing live. We have a few more treats up our sleeves, too, so make sure to keep an eye on our social media for those.”

The national tour of Drag Me to Love with Paines Plough Roundabout kicks off on Friday 13th August in Byker. The show will play at Cast Theatre Doncaster and Hull Truck Theatre before the gang returns North for the hugely anticipated return of Bonnie and Fanny’s Christmas Spectacular at Live Theatre from Wednesday 1st December. With Christmas starting to appear on the horizon, Hattie is in no doubt how she’s feeling about being back on stage with the legendary Your Aunty Fanny team.

“Absolutely buzzing!! The Office Christmas Party to end all parties is coming back! We are so excited to be going into the room with the glorious Your Aunt Fanny and getting the gang back together. It’s such a good laugh and the perfect alternative Christmas show with all our kooky and lovable characters, comedy sketches, drag numbers and Christmas romances. We were all gutted not to be able to do the show again last year, for obvious reasons, so this year we’ll be back with sleigh bells on! Just you wait!”

Bonnie & The Bonnettes present Drag Me To Love at Paines Plough Roundabout, Byker on Friday 13th August


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