Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #2

In my second post exploring the history of the black Pin Up I want to look at the world of burlesque during it's hey day during the 1950's and early 60's. With Neo burlesque well and truly now a part of mainstream culture (nipple tassels from Ann Summer's anyone?) it would be easy to assume that today's burlesque superstars are direct examples of the original scene, but that wouldn't be strictly true. For every Dita Von Teese and Immodesty Blaize today, there was a black performer equally as talented and devoted to the art back then. It could be that the media (then as now) chose to ignore performers of colour in favour of the white all American version.

So with this in mind here are some black burlesque performers who should be as well known as the legendary Tempest Storm and Dixie Evans but have fallen from view. Let's take a look at their incredible careers...

Jean Idelle

Imagine, it's 1950 and you're a young black woman who has just told your mother you want to become a burlesque dancer. She, in trying to guide her daughter to opt for a less salacious career, sends you to speak with the local pastor. Thankfully, the pastor is a man with a liberal outlook on life and tells you, if it's what you really want to do, to follow your dreams.

With Gods blessing Jean Idelle went on to become one of the most sought after exotic dancers of her era. She was a naturally gifted dancer and having studied under Katherine Dunham, she was soon 'discovered' and began performing at Minsky's Burlesque show in Chicago where she worked her way up to become a headline act taking to the stage between 1950 and 1964.

Idelle's trademark performance was dancing with huge white ostrich feather fans and at the height of her career she was earning around $1000 a month. By today's standards that's around $8600, which for a black performer makes the sum even more impressive considering the racism and segregation of the time .

The amount of money Idelle was making was due to her impeccable performances. Professionalism was very important to her and she was never late never sick or sloppy. For such a woman to be so successful both professionally and financially it seems odd that her name is not better known.

Perhaps Idelle's true legacy should lie in her success at performing in both white and black clubs across the U.S and Canada. It can't have been easy staying true to your art in the face of adversity.

Lottie 'The Body' Graves

By the 1960's burlesque was beginning to loose it's appeal. In order to gain bigger audiences the focus became less about the art form and more about the strip, resorting to showing more skin, and mingling with the punters.

Having been classically trained as a dancer, Graves began her burlesque career at the early age of 17 and brought a dash more class to her performance. She stood out thanks to her elegant moves and outstanding figure.

Graves said that exotic dancing was 'top of the shelf, the champagne of dance' and her polished art form gave her the opportunity to lead an equally glamorous lifestyle rubbing shoulders with the likes of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin.

Motown legend Martha Reeves a friend and neighbour stated,

'She held her own. Lottie had skills that were superior to all of her competitors. She out-danced them all.

She had body movements that only she could pull off, and very elaborate costumes. And I know she can still dance, and does a high kick that shows a lot of young ladies [up]'

Like Jean Idelle, Graves can be credited with breaking through racial tensions at the height of open racism by performing at white clubs. Never classed as a stripper, Graves unique moves set her apart from other bump n grinders and she transcended both the burlesque and racial barriers. 

Toni Elling

At the age of 32 Toni Elling began stripping quite late in life. It was 1960, and after spending nine years struggling to get a promotion in her telephonist job, and being denied one because of her race, Elling had had enough. It was after taking some advice from her friend Rita Revere, herself a stripper, Elling decided to give the burlesque scene a try.

Taking her stage name from Duke Ellington, Elling started her new career in The Flame Show Bar in Detroit. (She and Ellington were good friends and it is rumoured he wrote the song 'Satin Doll' in her favour). 

Of her first gig Elling said, “I was surprised I knew what to do and that it went over so well. I wouldn’t get an agent, though. Didn’t know why I needed one. So many places I couldn’t work because of the colour thing. An agent who was a friend booked me in Lima, Ohio. Word got around and after that, I found it easy to get work outside Detroit. I finally got a bit of a reputation.”

She had many gimmicks to fill out her repertoire. A Spanish act in a flamenco dress, a wedding dress strip and even a street walker character. But Elling got frustrated by other performers stealing her routines. Because of this she decided to do something few others could mimic, an Afro act. "There weren’t that many black entertainers in Oregon at the time. Nobody could copy that". She also included singing into her routines which went down well with her audiences.

Elling's cool and elegant demeanour earned her much praise in the burlesque community and opened doors for her taking to places other black performers had been denied. She toured the U.S Canada and even took her act as far as Japan.


There were many amazing performers to choose from while researching this post, it's worth mentioning a couple more who caught my eye; the statuesque Ethelyn Butler who used exotic dancing as a bridge to ballet...

 ..and the exquisite Sahji Jackon who appeared in a movie alongside Dizzy Gillespie. Both of these ladies must have fantastic back stories, yet I could find little about them!

It was good to learn how diverse burlesque was (and still is), but eye opening to see how little non white performers get to be in the lime light. I'm really glad that on the whole these women took control of their careers and images and made names for themselves. I think they deserve as much applause as possible.

Next time I'll delve into the girly magazines of the vintage era to see how the black Pin Up was represented in the age of Bettie Page and her colleagues.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #1

Following on from my post about the Vogue Ball introducing work I will be doing with Manchester dance troupe The House Of Ghetto I've begun to look into the history of the black pin up which will be the project's starting point.

Obviously, I adore the Pin Up and when speaking of the Pin Up I refer to models, dancers and performers who have all appealed to popular culture through their work and mass produced image. I have even painted pin ups myself in the past. Yet pin ups are almost always shown as white women. It seems the Western world never quite managed to embrace the idea of other races having a sexual identity. The Pin Up's black sibling (and for that matter Hispanic or any other race) is majorly under represented in mainstream popular culture. 

That's not to say that the beloved Pin Up hasn't donned the apparel of other cultures, but she's hardly given those cultures any agency or freedom of expression. She was simply play acting and appropriating cliched ideas.

Despite the lack of portrayal in the Western world, the black female form has long had a power to fascinate the Western audience. Going back as far as the early 19th Century we can find the example of Sara Baartman

Born in the Cape Colony (present day South Africa)  Baartman was a Khoikhoi woman who was exhibited as a freak show attraction because of her unusually large buttocks. Her 'performance' drew huge crowds across England (where she was baptised in Manchester Cathedral) and France, where she eventually died at the young age of 29. After her death her skeleton and body cast were put on display at the Natural History Museum in Angers. 

I understand it is a far leap to put Baartman in the story of the black Pin Up yet she holds an important place in terms of non white women being seen as more 'exotic', animal-like and sexually primitive by white audiences. She wasn't accepted as a 'normal' woman because of her different physical qualities, she was an oddity and her threat was minimalised by making an example of her. This is something to bear in mind when thinking of how the black woman's image has been represented in popular Western culture through the ages.

Moving forward a century, most people will have heard of Josephine Baker and her 'Danse sauvage' where she thrilled the audiences of the Folies Bergere dancing in her famous banana skirt. Baker embraced the things that made her stand apart from the Western ideal, and unlike the upsetting and unsettling story of Baartman, she was able to freely exploit Western notions of the primitive woman to her own advantage. Often referred to as The Black Pearl,The Bronze Venus and The Creole Goddess, Baker created a colourful parody which gained her money, fame and lasting notoriety. Her legacy was to create a shift in how a black woman could hold the power to her sexuality whilst being objectified.

As technology evolved and took hold of the entertainment industry, performers from the burlesque scene became popular fixtures in Hollywood musicals. One such talent from the chorus line was Jeni LeGon. 

Jeni LeGon (see more @gemma_parker_artist)

Dancing from the age of 16 for the Count Basie Orchestra, LeGon had a distinctive gangly style both acrobatic and comedic. She was soon spotted and whisked to Hollywood to appear in her first film Hooray For Love in 1935. As she credits herself, 'I had moves that were typically men’s moves because they were so technically difficult - flips, splits, cartwheels - I could do it all'. No one else offered the particular package LeGon could and because of this she broke new ground as a black woman singing and dancing in mainstream Hollywood films pre the likes of Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge.

You can see her technical ability and sweet girlish style on the screen as she performs alongside Fats Waller and Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson. Yet despite the film's success leading to a contract with MGM, her dancing career on film was short lived. She was so skillful she outshone the white leading ladies and soon MGM couldn't find a project suitable for her. She was pigeonholed into typically black roles such as the grass skirt wearing dancer in Swing Is Here To Stay (1936) or increasing, during the 1940's, as a housemaid. It is sad to think of all that frenetic talent going to waste. 

It's interesting to note the difference in how LeGon was represented as the savage black woman to how Josephine Baker chose to do it. LeGon had no authority over her image in this scene. Unlike Baker her control has been taken away so she becomes a 2 dimensional cartoon, another minimalised black stereotype with no sexual identity and no threat.


Jeni LeGon had varied success in her career and, as with most true greats, her talents weren't fully appreciated until much later in life. There is a brilliant article where you can read more about her highs and lows HERE

While researching the black Pin Up I hope that my brief notes give some context to the power of the images that these women left behind.
Join me next time where I'll be looking into the past at the little known stars of the black burlesque scene through the 1940's and 50's.

Monday, 6 March 2017

International Women's Day: the Helen Gurley Brown effect

It's International Women's Day this week (March 8th) and I thought I'd mark the occasion by commemorating a woman who changed modern culture. You may or may not have heard of Helen Gurley Brown, but her impact on Western women's attitudes to sex, careers and relationships is immeasurable. She helped create a change in women's lives for the better which led to lifestyles many of us can now take for granted.

To fully understand Brown's effect on modern culture you must first try to imagine how life was for women up to the early 1960's. This was a time before the feminist movement had taken hold and women in the UK had only gained the right to vote a few decades earlier. Life for many women was expected to follow a particular and limited course; marry in her early twenties (or late teens) and begin a family which she would then dedicate her entire existence to. Being a wife and mother were a woman's main duties. To somehow avert these fates was often seen as failure or a waste or to be pitied.

However by the early 1960's strict social attitudes towards gender were beginning to broaden. The Kinsey Report of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female from 1953 had already caused ripples of shock by just talking about women's sex lives beyond marriage, a thing never before done on a public scale. While the new phenomena that was Playboy Magazine, championed the idea that women enjoyed sex as much as men, again unheard of in a world that valued women's virginal (unmarried|) or maternal (married) state but never the idea of her actually having sex outside of these two polar ideals. Women who had sex for anything but procreation were still generally seen as fast, loose and social pariahs. To confuse the status quo even more, a new method of contraception was introduced with the coming of the 60's and 'the pill' offered a new sense of freedom for women wishing to avoid pregnancy.

When thinking of the figureheads of the feminist movement which naturally evolved alongside and aided by these cultural shifts, it's easy to think of influential women like Gloria Steinem or Betty Freidan whose journalistic and literary works stand out as seriously empowering women's voices. Yet another woman was making her mark in an altogether different way with no less impact. 


Helen Gurley Brown caused an international sensation when she released her book 'Sex and the Single Girl' in 1962. This highly accessible book was written in the style of one girlfriend talking to another. It did away with the cold sterile scientific language of earlier books on the subject of S.E.X and introduced the idea that women not only had sex outside of marriage but they enjoyed it and actively went in search of it. Brown, by then a married woman herself had done the unthinkable and published a book detailing her own (mis)adventures as a single woman spanning almost 20 years and over 100 lovers.
 The fallout from this was huge. Overnight Helen Gurley Brown became a household name for all the wrong reasons. She became 'that woman'. It's fun to witness Brown's guest slots on a myriad of TV and radio shows during the 60's (you can find many on youtube). Always introduced as 'the author of 'Sex and the Single Girl'' her shameful notoriety went before her and audiences were deliciously shocked by her unique opinions. On one of her many appearances on the chain smoking confrontational host Joe Pyne's show she was called a 'terrible woman' for writing about how to have affairs with married men. Yet despite the public's moral outrage Brown never became flustered during these PR outings and kept her feminine charming composure at all times. 

In fact the HGB brand was a big seller all round. Her debut book inspired a film of the same name starring Natalie Wood and spawned book sequels, 'Sex and the Office' and the 'Outrageous Opinions of Helen Gurley Brown'. It's important to note that in tandem to Brown's ideas about sex she talked about her career and in turn the notion of women like herself, working and succeeding in the work place. When 'Sex and the Single Girl' was published HGB was one of the USA's highest paid advert copywriters, and she'd worked her way up there from nothing. This was in an era when women's roles were still very marginalised for the majority, and women with a career beyond their families were virtually non existent.

It was while touting a new idea for a magazine aimed at the HGB audience that Hearst Publishing decided to give Brown the opportunity that led to her second life changing career move. Rather than risk a whole lot of money on a new publication that might not take off, in 1965 Hearst gave her the role of editor in chief for their then floundering magazine, Cosmopolitan. The rest as they say is history.

Brown took the safe women's journal that up to that time had spoken about how to be the best housewife with quaint little tips for cooking and home making and replaced it with the HGB vision. She wanted to talk to women who had lived like her, working hard to make their own way whilst making their own decisions regarding relationships. She made it normal for women to talk about sex and own their sexuality. Yes, these women still wanted to get married and still wanted children (it was still the 60's after all) but they had interests that also reached beyond these traditional values. Cosmopolitan now ran articles like 'Why can't a woman be like a man?' and 'Is there life after marriage?'. In 1966 one issue ran with the spookily prophetic 'Dating by computer. Actual experiences of four career girls'

Helen Gurley Brown revolutionised the women's magazine industry making Cosmopolitan the most successful of it's kind, so popular it branched out into Europe and countries like Russia that were way behind in the sexual cultural shift. There is no doubt Brown's input helped to open the eyes of millions of women around the globe encouraging them to see beyond the narrow options that were laid out for them.

Despite her reach and obvious impact Brown was never fully accepted by the feminist cause. She was (and debatably still is) snubbed and sometimes ridiculed by the feminists of the day for her too feminine and literally 'girly' outlook. Perhaps because as she was telling women they could be sexual and successful she was also telling them to be beautiful and liked.

The HGB brand can certainly be criticised for promoting unrealistic ideals of beauty by creating the 'Cosmopolitan Girl' who graced each cover with her huge hair and perky cleavage. Brown cashed in on the ideal of a girl who not only lives life to the full but looks like a model while doing it. The thing is, the ideal sold.

While we can see the symbiotic impact that women's magazines still hold today, on one hand telling women they are empowered and on the other insinuating they aren't pretty or thin enough (that is a whole other blog post!), it's impossible to not give Helen Gurley Brown her due in changing women's attitudes to sex and working life for the better. If she hadn't been the first to take the idea and run with it we might never have seen other women embrace their potential and break down similar barriers.

In popular culture we might never have had Alexis Colby throwing her weight around in Dynasty, or Carrie Bradshaw and her friends exploring Sex and the City or in turn the likes of Lena Dunham writing and starring in Girls. Each incarnation is a product of it's time and open to comment but each also is a powerful platform talking about sex and success to women, and that would never have happened without HGB's influence.

Cosmo gently let Brown 'retire' from the editor in chief post after 32 years at the helm. Instead she took the title of International Editor for all 59 international editions of the magazine whilst in her 70's. She died aged 90 in 2012 leaving a lasting legacy. If you buy an issue of Cosmo, to this day on the staff listings page, you will find the words 'Editor in chief, Cosmopolitan (1965-1997) Helen Gurley Brown.


I purposely haven't mentioned anything about Brown's personal background, her difficult family situation, small town upbringing or the many jobs and love affairs she had while struggling to manage her life. She was obsessed with her weight (while being stacked like a rake), a huge fan of plastic surgery and a workaholic. She was a very eccentric woman, definitely flawed but fascinating and highly influential. To find out more I'd recommend the book Not Pretty Enough: The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown by Gerri Hirshey and also the many videos which can be found on youtube which cover her rise to celebrity in the 1960's through to her old age in the 2010's. She made many guest appearances on TV shows both trivial and intellectual but her message is consistently clear and delivered with a beguiling shake of the head and a smile, it's hard not to become seduced by her.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Vogue Ball

Later this month I'll be attending the Vogue Ball in Manchester where I am sure I'll die and go to heaven! 

The Vogue ball is a stunning happening of expression art and culture, it features dance troupes battling it out for glory any damn way they can, and if the videos of past balls are to be believed it will truly take my breath away! Drag, burlesque, dance, costume and high fashion, my pulse is racing just writing about it!

Manchester's own House of Ghetto will be performing this year. A troupe of black female dancers whose House Mother, the award winning dancer and choreographer, Darren Pritchard points out I need to see! We chatted for some time about the historic relevance of black female performers and concluded troupes like the House of Ghetto wouldn't be here if they didn't have the heritage of black female performers that went before them. That includes burlesquers, models and dancers, the black pin up girls from the past. 

Darren Pritchard in Vogue mode (see more @gemma_parker_artist) 

Today it could seem odd to think that black women were under represented in these fields when we have Beyonce and her contemporaries ruling the music industry, however as the pin up girl gained popularity through the decades, the black pin up took a back seat and became something of an underground phenomena. 

The black pin up is my starting point for art work I'll be collaborating on with Darren and The House of Ghetto and I am so excited to start learning more about this subject. There is a rich history of black pin ups that has gone unnoticed or even disregarded running parallel to the likes of the gorgeous Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe. I'll be exploring the history of the black pin up in the run up to the Vogue Ball so keep your eyes open to learn with me!

In the meantime take a look at the amazingness that is the Vogue Ball last year. I am so excited to see this with my own eyes! ahhhhhh!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Alexis embroidery

 Alexis 2017

I finished my embroidery of Joan Collins AKA Alexia Carrington Colby last night! I'm not gonna lie, this piece took me aaaaaages! It turned out to be very detailed and I had many breaks in between days of hard stitching. However, I have to say I love it and I'm pleased with how the Dame turned out!

Here's how I made this piece from start to end...

Firstly I drew out Joan's beautiful face onto canvas and painted in the skin tone and hair. I also put in some colour around the eyes as the base of her fabulous purple smokey eye make up.

Then I began to stitch in the details...

After appliqueing on the red fabric for Joan's dress I soon realised I needed to give her a fresh background as I'd unwittingly tried out my paint colours far too close to her face on the original canvas (see photos above). To fix this I cut out around Joan and ironed her to new canvas using bondaweb.

Then I began stitching into the hair... oh god, the hair! it went on and on...

I felt that some of the drama of the face had been lost as I stitched, so I gave Joan a little touch up and defined and darkened her makeup. Got to make sure those cheek bones are sharp enough to cut!


And then she was done. Here's a closer look at the details of her face so you can see some of the different stitches I used for different textures like jewellery, skin and hair. This was a really satisfying piece to work on, although I have definitely learned a few things not to do for next time. I'll be starting a new iconic look in embroidery soon, I haven't quite decided who but in the mean time I'll be thinking of framing options for Alexis/Joan...something fabulous and decadent I think...

Friday, 20 January 2017

2016... wasn't that bad

Last year was pretty grim wasn't it? I mourned with everyone else at the losses of loved icons and ranted over worrying global events, but by December the 31st I felt like I'd had it with all the negativity, I didn't want to look back at 2016 and only think of the crappy stuff!. I'd had enough doom and gloom!

So I thought I'd begin 2017 by listing some of the things I never got around to blogging about but still held an important place creatively for me in 2016. Here's some of my highlights from last year (also you can see more about these and other projects on my Instagram @gemma_parker_artist)


Embroidery no.2

I mentioned briefly last year that I had begun working on some drag inspired embroideries and this had branched out to making work based on a variety of iconic and transformative make up looks. I am stitching portraits of people who inspire me and have used make up as a powerful tool of expression and creativity in their lives and careers. My most recent piece is of Dame Joan Collins, a lady I greatly admire and who I was lucky enough to see last year in her 'Unscripted' show. I loved her as Alexis in Dynasty which is where she created her most enduring 'look', a bold smokey eye and colourful lip combo that will always be associated with the legend of Joan Collins.

I am really enjoying making these works, they are kitsch and decorative and involve all the things I love. I'm hoping to make enough for an exhibition and I plan on making a piece to mark Kylie Minogue's new album this year and her 30 years in the music industry. I'm not putting any pressure on myself with this work, other than trying to speed up, I'm just enjoying it and loving the process. It's also fun to see where the work takes me in terms of style and use of materials.

Interview with Rachel Maclean for HOME:

This was a real delight for me as, over the summer, I got to chat to multi media and award winning artist Rachel Maclean about one of my favourite subjects, dressing up and artifice. If you haven't seen Rachel's work you're in for a treat, a deceptively sweet treat that coats a darker and unpalatable centre!

Filled with overblown characters, all played by the artist, Rachel's work inhabits make-believe worlds that might seem colourful and camp, but mirror our own world all too closely. Using her ability to play both grotesque and cute, Rachel's work says a lot about gender, politics and society.

It was great to interview Rachel about her love of dressing up and explore the reasons and ideas behind it. As a fellow lover of artifice I found the whole experience really interesting, not to mention the writing and editing the interview involved. The finished article was published in HOME's autumn programme. You can read an online version HERE

Working with Forever Manchester:

Forever Manchester funds and supports community activity across Manchester and I was thrilled to attend their Summer Social event as artist in residence drawing the crowd and making postcard portraits of attendees. My camera on the day was rubbish and didn't pick up any details but at least here you can see a taster of the people who sat for me.

I love doing events like this where there is a real party atmosphere and people are curious to see their image drawn right in front of them. Once I start, I can sit there and sketch for hours not realising how much time has past. I hope we can work together again in the future as Forever Manchester and the work they do is an initiative I really admire!
Enchantment Under the Sea Disco and Mermaid:

Having a moment with my mermaid

When someone asks me if I will paint a life size mermaid cut out I say YES! That's what happened here, when HOME threw an Enchantment Under The Sea disco to mark their 80's film series in the run up to Christmas. In honour of their launch film Back To The Future, the arts centre held a huge party inspired by the movie's legendary 1950's dance, complete with sub marine decoration and THE actual Delorian parked outside! (I had a great time posing behind the steering wheel).

 Photo by Chris Payne

The event itself was a huge success and I'm happy to say that my mermaid with her 'I heart Marty' tattoo was also very popular on the night! This was a really fun project to do, from design to actual painting, I really enjoyed the challenge of working so big and painting one of my favourite creatures!
(incidentally my mermaid's look was inspired by the gorgeous Ann Blythe and her role in 1940's classic Mr Peabody and the Mermaid, check it out it's an enchanting little film).

Costume Modelling:

One of the things I like to do is modelling in costume for art events and drawing classes. Having a model who enjoys dressing up, and posing in character makes an unusual and interesting change from still life and nudes. It gives the participants a chance to draw or photo a complete persona and try to capture their energy. Last year I was lucky enough to work with Tameside's Creative Arts and Minds CIC to pose for a photography group who had never had a model before. It was a really rewarding experience to see their initial wariness and nerves give way to some truly creative picture taking! I also worked with Bury Art Collective on a drawing class, Maid in Bury, which was such a fun night. I'll be modelling in Bury again this year for Bury art Society and I look forward to seeing what art gets produced this time round!

This year....

I'll try to blog more often, I do miss it, but I never seemed to get around to doing it much. This year I'll blog more. I have a few ideas for other things I'd like to achieve including a new set of greeting cards designs and I really want to get my embroidery work in a magazine! I began a new project last year based on updating old work but I lost all my enthusiasm for it. I still don't know where this will go but I hope I can resurrect this project maybe tweaking it slightly, so lets see where this goes. I also want to work faster. I like to take my time to create the best work I can but this can limit my output. 2017 is already nearing the end of January! I am getting my skates on as I type!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Return to Grey Gardens, Manchester

I'm a bit late in writing this, but I was recently lucky enough to see the fabulous Jinkx Monsoon and Peaches Christ perform in Return to Grey Gardens in Manchester!

The show was a drag tribute to the original cult documentary film Grey Gardens  shot by the Maysles brothers in 1975. 

Featuring mother and daughter, Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, the film follows the two women as they coexist in the crumbling remains of their once grand East Hampton home Grey Gardens surrounded by dozens of cats and raccoons and the debris of decades of neglect and lack of money. It's fascinating to watch and there's something both touching and inspiring in the way Little Edie fashions new outfits out of a jumble of ragtag items topped with her remaining Tiffany brooch.

The film is full of classic one liners as both women argue and make up, sing and dance their way through each monotonous day. The stage show reenacted whole sections of beloved dialogue from the film perfectly and I loved how Jinkx, with the perfect upper crust Manhattan drawl, put her own spin on Little Edie as the beleaguered daughter Little Jinkxy, with dreams of stardom forced to stay with her manipulative Drag Mother Big Peachy.

Return to Grey Gardens was the perfect homage to the film, never poking fun at the two women who inspired it, always tongue in cheek but at times poignant too. Little Jinkxy belting out I Dreamed a Dream to her rooftop raccoon audience was stunning, funny and when you think about it, right on the money, as Little Edie was a performer at heart who never got to fulfill her calling.

Peaches Christ looked amazing and was great as the pushy matriarch who cooks a mean corn and takes a little too much delight in the handy man Jerry (played with panache by Team GB athlete Matt Lister!) and I loved how the show made good use of local talent to fill the roles of birthday party guests, cats and the Beale's famous cousin Jackie O! All the performances were brilliant and it looked like everyone was having the best fun ever. Special mention goes to Manchester creative Bren O Callaghan who not only produced the show but starred in it as the camera toting David Maysles.

I'd been excited to see the show for months and in the run up I drew Jinkx as Little Jinkxy, which I'm pleased to say she loved and she also re-posted on her Instagram.

I'd have loved to have made the after show party STAUNCH which happened at Islington Mill but it wasn't to be, fortunately I was able to live vicariously through this backstage video filmed at the Mill before the girls went on stage and Peaches has some interesting things to say about the show and why the film appeals to the drag/gay scene so much.

Top marks to everyone involved, we certainly had loads of fun and loved dressing up to be in the audience, I'll never listen to 'Stay' by Rihanna in the same way again, it was so so good.