Election Eclairs

Last Friday I was kindly invited to the press night of the play ‘Dirty White Boy: Tales Of Soho’, at the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall.

It’s based on Clayton Littlewood’s book about the various colourful and sexually graphic characters he encountered when he ran a shop on the corner of Dean Street and Old Compton Street, the Dirty White Boy of the title. He kept a diary, which became a MySpace blog (this being 2006), a newspaper column and finally a book. Then he teamed up with the actor David Benson and turned it into a series of sketches, with Mr L as himself, and Mr B as everyone else. I was fortunate enough to see the duo perform at the Colony Room – a suitably iconic Soho venue – just before it closed.

So now they’ve expanded it further, this time into a full-length stage show. The sketches have become scenes, the characters have dramatic arcs and follow-ups, there’s as much tears as there are laughs, and the scenes are punctuated by songs from a talented young third player, Alexis Gerred. Being not exactly ugly, he also doubles up perfectly as one wealthy character’s rent boy. I’m not so keen on the use of hits by Blondie, Petula Clark, and the Pet Shop Boys as illustrations to the action (though a few years ago I would’ve been; my tastes have changed). But there’s a rather good original number at the start, and his rendition of the Mae West song, ‘My Old Flame’ is absolutely stunning.

Otherwise, it’s as it was in the Colony, with Mr Benson on convincing form as a Quentin Crisp-esque old queen, a pensioner who blows his income on thongs (‘what else is a pension for?’) a motherly transsexual, and even a black drag queen from Chicago.

One aspect of the show that occurred to me is how people in real life often present themselves as types, if not full-blown stereotypes, as a way of dealing with the world. Once you get to know the person, the assumptions dissolve. It’s been said before that camp can be a defence mechanism, but no more so than any other parameter of mannerism or appearance. Choice of hairstyle or clothes, too, will put you into one tribe or another.

Even those who don’t think they’re a type can find themselves ticking boxes unconsciously. I recently saw a photo of people campaigning to save BBC 6Music  and noticed their shared similarities: band t-shirt, jeans, thirtysomething stubble, knowledge of Wire box sets, both Wire the band and The Wire TV series. It’s social type as interface. (Radio-wise, I’m equally mindful of jokes about the stereotypical Radio 4 listener being stuffy and out of touch with youth culture, while the joke about Radio 3  for years was that all the presenters wore black polo neck jumpers.)

‘I am much more than I appear’, we say in our choices of self-presentation. ‘But at least you have somewhere to start. And it’s a comfort. And sometimes, something to cling to.’

It could be argued that Mr L has the hardest job of the night, having to play himself throughout, and – as he says right at the start – he’s no actor. However, his gentle, even-toned, unassuming style of speaking is what holds the show together, and keeps it both original and personal. Had he been replaced with a proper actor, the show would be a lot less special. I hear it’s selling out, and rightly so.


Sunday sees me at the Arch Hotel near Marble Arch, for afternoon tea & cake with Ms Alex Paynter and friends. The hotel specialises in eclairs, and I get my introduction to the savoury incarnation. I suppose it’s not far from a kind of stretched vol-au-vent or a canape with extensions.

High Tea at the Arch comes with Bruce Weber coffee table books to peruse, over artisan bread with gentleman’s relish. I gingerly try an Earl Grey-flavoured martini (billed as a ‘MarTEAni’, groan), which turns out to be absolutely delicious, if a little potent.

Not only are the prices reasonable, but they throw in – o joy of joys – their limited edition Election Eclairs.

I’d been envious of my American friend Jennifer’s Barack Obama chocolate bar, and wished UK elections featured more edible merchandise. At the Arch, I’m delighted to report, faces of the party leaders have been printed in edible ink onto marzipan squares, with which to decorate various appropriate flavours of eclair. For David Cameron there’s Blueberry & Coconut, for Gordon Brown there’s Rose with Raspberry & Champagne Jelly, while Nick Clegg’s flavour is Grapefruit & Champagne.

I love this photo of Ms P caught devouring one of the Gordon Browns.

It should be pointed out that her choice of eclair in no way reflects the way she might vote on May 6th.

(Photo by Chris Amies)

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