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‘I love beards on girls, boys, animals...’

Cabaret artist Lizzie West explains why she wears a prosthetic beard in her act at a slick Soho club

By Justin McDonnell
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For professional purposes, Lizzie West sports a beard. The cabaret performer and her team use Hollywood-quality prosthetic facial fur to recreate the ‘bearded ladies’ of nineteenth-century carnivals. Her act has been a surprise hit at self-proclaimedly decadent Soho burlesque-club Cirque le Soir, offering a frisson of freak to its well-heeled clientele, which counts Miley, Kanye and Rihanna among its past patrons. 

At first, West wasn’t sure how this ‘burlesque dance with a twist’ would go down. In her act, the beard isn’t unveiled until the very end of the performance, which comes as quite a revelation: ‘I was nervous at the response I might get,’ she says. ‘I was a bit worried they would be thinking that I was taking the piss out of people. It’s not about that, but the response was massive cheers from the audience, and about ten different men offering to buy me a drink.’ On her way to and from the club, however, it’s a different story: she’s commonly subjected to catcalling and sexual insults. Beardy enlightenment these days, it seems, is all about context.

So, obvious question: why the beard?
‘I love them on girls, boys, animals – I always have done. And on stage, it’s not what people expect. Do you laugh? Are you repulsed? Do you think it’s sexy? I tend to get a lot of different responses from the audience.’

What sort of reactions are we talking about?
‘People laugh – in a nice way, because they see an act where they think they know what’s going to happen. There’s a girl, she’s shaking her bum around, oh look she’s got some boobs, then comes the comedic reveal: oh, she’s got a beard! It’s not what they expect. I think girls like it too, watching a “sexy burlesque” performer on stage taking the mickey out of herself.’

And how about outside of the venue?
‘The most common thing people shout is “slut” and “prostitute”, which I find really weird. The night bus is a constant fear for most performers, full beard or not. Even with the slightest exotic make-up, some men will assume they’re able to talk to you, chat you up, even touch you. I think the problem is when the attention goes away from people laughing with you, to laughing at you.’

And what about in the wide world of the web?
‘I have a lot of bearded women followers online. A mother from Texas recently sent a message which said,“I really admire what you’re doing, you’re making having a beard sexy and light-hearted and it’s an amazing thing, keep it up.” Now each time I Instagram a picture of me performing with a beard, I always put her tag on it: #beardedladypride.’

Going back to the club, what’s it like performing to the Cirque le Soir crowd?
‘It’s a very particular crowd of people who dress up fashionably and like to party. Rich people and models, and generally, those who wouldn’t find a beard on a woman sexy. But they really love it. I never thought I’d be asked out as much as I have done while wearing a beard but I’m always showered with champagne and attention. I think it’s great how the club celebrates different forms of beauty: overweight, skinny, trans, dwarves: a lot of different performers are represented here. Compared to the Victorian times where a freakshow was laughing at the freaks, at Cirque le Soir, we’re the celebrities of the club.’

London's best cabaret clubs

London’s best cabaret clubs

Clubs

There’s more to cabaret than lounge-singing crooners. With niches ranging from retro-style burlesque to drag queens, satirical wordsmiths to avant-garde situationists and polished character comedians to spine-stretching circus acts, no two shows are quite the same. Such diversity within the cabaret scene begs one question: where can you find the good stuff? Think we’ve missed a great cabaret club in London? Let us know in the comment box below.

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