I discovered yesterday that Samuel French's theatre bookshop in Fitzrovia is closing after 187 years. I repeat, 187 years! Sometimes I think a shop which has been with us for so long ought to have protection order slapped on it, but the oldest business in the U.K., the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, is also closing this year. What's going on?! I went to Samuel French's bookshop every week when I was a drama student. It was my little treat. I read a play a day for an entire year, working my way through the alphabet of playwrights' surnames. I'd go into the shop, head to the plays written by playwrights with surnames beginning with that week's letter, and pour over the plays and anthologies until I'd found one which took my fancy. I almost managed to get all the way from A-Z, and stalled at Timberlake Wertenbaker in the Ws. Ironically, I hadn't got as far as Arnold Wesker by the time he came to watch my graduation showcase. The rest is history...
This evening, we travelled east, first, for dinner with Brother Edward and Sascha in a beautiful Swiss-Italian restaurant in Blackwall, and then, via DLR to Limehouse to see my favourite drag queen, Bianca Del Rio doing a stand-up set at the Troxy, a beautiful Art Deco cinema, which I'd never visited before. It's one of those ghastly places where people's sweets and drinks are taken away on the door, plainly in a deeply cynical way to make sure customers buy confectionary at their ludicrously inflated rates. I was told to dump my fruit pastels in a bin. "Perhaps I could collect them on my way out?" I asked. "They won't be here," said the doorman, grumpily. So I told them I was hypoglycaemic, the manager was called, and I was allowed to keep my sweeties!
The warm up act was a British comedy queen called Myra Dubois, whose set was beautifully offensive. "I did a gig recently at Hackney Downs" she said, "I thought it was a charity..."
Bianca Del Rio was, of course, wonderful. She sashayed onto the stage, bright orange hair piled high on her head, screeching, "hello London. How the f**k are you?" And the tone was set. "If you're fat, you're gonna go home crying. If you're a faggot, you're gonna be offended." She barked, shouted, swore like a true New Yorker and insulted everyone from the Chinese to disabled people and everyone and everything in between. The f**kometer exploded after reaching 100 in about five minutes. Not for the faint-hearted, but then, I've never had a faint heart.
Bianca is best known as the acerbic, iconic season six winner of Ru Paul's Drag Race and her star seems to have shone far more brightly than any of the other contestants or winners. She's made feature films and toured the world doing her unique form of stand up which focusses on well-crafted, machine-gun-like ranting. She is horrifyingly rude, but somehow manages to remain entirely likeable. Being rude with charm and grace is an art form in itself.
With Bianca Del Rio, you get the impression of someone who's paid her dues. Fame came for her in her late 30's. She was a New York theatre costumier, and, like Lily Savage, worked every dingy drag club on the circuit, honing her craft under the radar. I have nothing but admiration for her. It was a splendid night out and the auditorium was packed. A massive thank you to my brother and Sascha for thoughtfully taking us there as our Christmas present. We've looked forward to it ever since, and were not disappointed.