A glimpse into our fabulous performance history
24 Jul 2019
As the city gears up for Brighton & Hove Pride 2019 we took a look at some of the many LGBTQI+ artists that have graced our stages during our 152 year-history as a performance venue.
Douglas Byng’s last ever performance, Brighton Dome Pavilion Theatre, 1986
Douglas Coy Byng (1893 to 1987) was a cabaret megastar. Aged eight, he stunned his parents by announcing he wanted to go on stage. Aged 27, he was banned from the BBC for his saucy humour. Billed as ‘Bawdy but British’, Byng was famous for his female impersonations. His songs are full of sexual innuendo and double entendres, but in reality, his material was never crude. His famous numbers included: ‘Sex Appeal Sarah’, ‘Milly the Messy Old Mermaid’ and ‘The Lass who Leaned against the Tower of Pisa’. A Brighton resident in his later years, Dougie trod the boards of Brighton Dome until the age of 93, when, in 1986 he gave his final performance at the Pavilion Theatre (now the Studio Theatre). His legendary drag acts cleared the way for female impersonators like Barry Humphries and Paul O’Grady.
David Bowie performed as Ziggy Stardust, Brighton Dome, 1973
Local journalist Melita Dennett will never forget the day David Bowie performed as Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane at Brighton Dome in 1973.
“And then came the news I'd been awaiting: Bowie was playing in Brighton. Off we all packed in the car for the day, my mother and little sister off on an extended shopping trip while my father waited patiently as we queued for five tantalisingly long hours in New Road for the box office. . . . And yes, he was queer, camping it up with Ronson, giving the heebie-jeebies to a million parents across the country, terrifying some kids and fanning that tiny little spark of hope in others that there was another real-life to be had, despite what we were taught. . . It was overall too quickly, but this was it: I knew there was another life, another world because I'd seen it, here in Brighton Dome. It wasn't just about Bowie, it was the realisation that you could step outside of stifling conformity, normality and find that other world for yourself.”
Peaches, earsthetic 2013 and Brighton Festival 2014
With her amalgamation of rock and electro, suggestive yet intelligent lyrics and subversive live shows, Peaches has helped make the mainstream a more sexually progressive place. Making regular appearances across the Brighton Dome year round and Brighton Festival programmes, she memorably performed at 2013’s debut earsthetic festival alongside a screening of her first film ‘Peaches Does Herself’ which charted her rise from bedroom musician to electro-rock star, and even dropped in for a photoshoot with Brighton Dome’s famous organ. In 2014 she returned for an even more unlikely scenario: a one-woman performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar accompanied by a single piano – a tribute to a score she has loved since she was a teenager – summed up by the Guardian’s Caroline Sullivan with the words: “What a woman. What a show.” We concur.
Photography by Vic Frankowski
Duckie: Mods Versus Rockers, Brighton Dome, Brighton Pride 2014
Exactly 50 years after the Mods and Rockers fought their battles on the streets and beaches of Brighton, the cult queer vintage club peddlers Duckie recreated this historical epoch in music, dance, performance and choreography. Hosted by Amy Lamé with DJs Readers Wifes, this Brighton Pride 2014 highlight starred a glittering array of talent, including Pink Fringe, The Caezars, Robin Whitmore, Lorraine Bowen, The Actionettes, The Two Wrongies, Black Elvis, Piney Gir, Miss High Leg Kick, Lucille Power, The Drakes and a dozen Lesley Ash clones. This unique clubbing event was the brainchild of Duckie – the post-gay performance and events collective that creates event culture: audience interactive experiences that blur the boundaries between theatre, nightclubs and arty show business. From their legendary 18-year weekly residency at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern to winning Olivier awards at the Barbican, these pony purveyors of progressive working-class entertainment mix live art and light entertainment.
Neil Bartlett’s Stella, Brighton Festival 2016
In April 1870, a strikingly well-dressed young woman named Stella repaired to the ladies’ toilet at London’s Royal Strand Theatre. She'd been watching the show when she discovered that her rather daring silk gown needed some attention and was using the ladies’ room to fix it. However, when she left the theatre at the end of the show, Stella was met by the police, arrested and carted off to Bow Street police-station - the same station where Oscar Wilde was to be charged just twenty-five years later. Veteran theatre-maker and long-term Brighton Festival collaborator Neil Bartlett immortalised the story of the 22-year-old failed bank-clerk Ernest Boulton, for whom Stella was only one of many aliases, in a moving commission for Brighton Festival 2016. It premiered at the Theatre Royal, Brighton before going on to performances at London International Festival of Theatre and Holland Festival.
Photography by Adam Weatherley
The Safety Map + tri-sex signage, Brighton Dome, Trans Pride 2016
With Brighton’s reputation as an LGBTQ+-friendly city, it can be easy to overlook incidents of prejudice towards the queer and transgender communities. The Safety Map encouraged victims of hate crime to come forward with their stories. A large quilt with a hand-drawn map of the city on it, allowing visitors to tag their own experiences onto relevant parts of Brighton, this safe space enabled LGBTQ+ people to share their stories and offer support to one another. A collaboration between LGBTQ+ arts producers Pink Fringe, local artist Kate Shields and Glaswegian performance artist Rosana Cade, the installation was not just intended to highlight unsavoury incidents around Brighton, but also to map queer and trans identity in the city generally. The installation coincided with the introduction of tri-sex signage at Brighton Dome in recognition of the fact that some audience members may have difficulty using public toilets, due to their gender expression, or how other people read their gender.
Bianca Del Rio, Brighton Dome 2017
John Grant, Brighton Dome 2015 & 2018
Brownton Abbey, Brighton Festival 2018
From the folks that brought Mykki Blanco to Brighton Festival 2017 came Brownton Abbey - a new Afro-futurist collective that took audiences to church. For this pastoral performance party, celestial beings from queer dimensions transformed Brighton Dome into a kaleidoscopic off-world temple. Headlined by New Orleans ‘Queen of Bounce’ Big Freedia, known for her collaborations with Diplo and RuPaul, with performance interventions throughout the evening by a heavenly constellation of Queer Artists of Colour, it sent the reviewer at GScene into rhapsody:
“Brownton Abbey felt like the seed of a whole festival, like being there on the magical night it all started and as we wandered out, glittered, marked with UV tribal face marking and a gilded shimmering golden face fringe we breathed the cool air of a Brighton night and thanked our lucky gods to be living in a city where a space like Brownton can be gouged out in the heart of a huge international festival. Well done all concerned.”
Photography by Vic Frankowski
John Barrowman, Brighton Dome 2015 & 2019
Christmas Queens, Brighton Dome 2018
Ru Paul’s Drag Race winner Bob The Drag Queen hosted a hilarious, comedy-musical show with iconic queens: Asia O’Hara, Phi Phi O’Hara, Jiggly Caliente, Eureka O’Hara, Kameron Michaels and Sharon Needles. Christmas Queens was the ultimate holiday extravaganza – the queens performed traditional Christmas songs with a twist and Bob’s shady sense of humour had the audience in stitches.
K.D Lang, Brighton Dome 2019
The iconic singer-songwriter k.d lang took the stage to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her breakthrough album, Ingénue. The multi-platinum selling album became a cultural milestone – it subverted traditional music and elevated LGBTQ+ issues. When the album was release k.d lang came out as gay, and many radio stations stopped playing her music, she felt ostracised by the music industry. But, she still went on to win a Grammy and become a LGBTQ+ icon.