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Everything you need to see at London’s And What? Queer Arts Festival

Written by
Katie McCabe

NOTE: And What? Queer Arts Festival still is going ahead but the following events on the programme have been cancelled:

- Idol Worship with Peaches Christ and Mink Stole. The event may be taking place at the Rio in Dalston on March 28, with Mink Stole appearing via video link. 

Pink Lemonade at Pleasance Theatre

- Lypsinka 

- Have You Heard with Miss Coco Peru


The celebration of drag, theatre and filthy cult films returns to London this week, and it all looks terrifyingly good. How will you decide what to see? We have a few ideas...

No one festival can ever hope to encompass all the gamechanging queer artists in London but And What? Queer Arts Festival is trying its damnedest. With 25 events on the roster, it’s here to take us on a whistle-stop tour of the familiar, the underground and the completely indefinable. It has London acts we rate so highly they practically live in the Things to Do pages of Time Out (hello, there, The Cocoa Butter Club) and others we’ve yet to see. And it’s not entirely London-centric, oh no – the festival has been infiltrated by a Manchester club night, too. So how to tackle the queer behemoth? Let us be your disruptive guide. Stops will include sleazy rock ’n’ roll, twisted midnight-movie drag and a steamy room full of naked people holding books…

See a new kind of cabaret

Pan-Asian collective The Bitten Peach takes its name from a story belonging to China’s Zhou dynasty, where to ‘enjoy the pleasure of a bitten peach’ meant to be homosexual. But nothing is forbidden here, except lazy Asian stereotypes. At its show ‘Crouching Tiger Mum, Hidden Drag Queen’, ShayShay, Lilly SnatchDragon and the rest of their fabulous drag family will take the audience on a journey to meet their ‘queer Asian ancestors’. It’s part cabaret, part burlesque, with a little sprinkle of circus – and is just the right amount of outrageous. The Pleasance Theatre. Tube: Caledonian Rd. Mar 20. £12-£15.

Photograph: Roxene Anderson Photography

Go clubbing in Manchester… without leaving London

At the first-night event, A Very Big Opening, you can watch The Cocoa Butter Club, a troupe spotlighting queer performers of colour, ‘decolonise and moisturise’ the stage with a piping hot alt-cabaret performance. Once you’ve wiped off your brow, throw yourself into Bollox, a club night Megabussed in from Manchester, complete with throbbing electroclash, trashy rock ’n’ roll and, er, its own Westboro Baptist Church dancefloor installation. Let DJ Beardre Barlow lead the way as you dance between placards that shout QUEER RIOT, BODY FASCISM ISN’T CUTE and all-time favourite, PAT BUTCHER MADE ME GAY. Colours Hoxton. Shoreditch High St Overground. Fri Mar 13. Free-£15 (donations welcome).

Photograph: VANEK London

Watch some stripped-back spoken word

Naked Boys Reading is exactly what its name suggests: a literary salon where participants read aloud to the crowd while wearing nothing but a furrowed brow and possibly a nice pair of rugby socks. In the past, they’ve read from the Brontë sisters, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and the erotic San Francisco diaries of Patrick Cowley, but for this night they’ll be reciting the sour-but-spicy writing of cult film actress Miss Coco Peru. It’s also a drag special, embracing any and no gender with with drag kings and boys and queens and non binary people alike. If you’re distracted by dangling modifiers, you’re doing it wrong. The Pleasance Theatre. Tube: Caledonian Rd. Mar 19. £12-£15. 

Photograph: Jagc Photography

Meet a cult film star

If you’ve ever watched a John Waters movie, you’ve definitely seen Mink Stole. The actress has starred in every one of the cult director’s films. She judges dance competitions in ‘Hairspray’, vies for the title of The Filthiest Person Alive in ‘Pink Flamingos’ and penetrates Divine with a string of rosary beads while reciting the stations of the cross in ‘Multiple Maniacs’. At Idol Worship you can see Mink on her first visit to the UK, where she’ll be in conversation with real-life bestie, drag performer, film director and MC, Peaches Christ. It’s going to be pure filth. The Pleasance Theatre. Tube: Caledonian Rd. Mar 24-25. £20-£35.

Photograph: Courtesy of Baby Lame

Come face to face with Baby Lame 

Just like Bette Davis in a certain terrifying psychological horror, drag star Baby Lame’s face is always freshly plastered in bright white make-up, but with much better blending, and tall blonde hair that can only be described as ‘Dolly Parton smuggling a ferret through customs’. If her sharp MC skills are anything to go by, her solo comedy show, ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Lame?’ will be full of sass, self-doubt and impromptu pop. The Pleasance Theatre. Tube: Caledonian Rd. Mar 24. £12-£15.

Photograph: Max Zadeh

Get tickets to a hit show

Mika Johnson’s ‘Pink Lemonade’ takes the audience on a bittersweet journey through their dating experiences – stories of love, gender, exoticisation and painful goodbyes – told with the help of lemons, bashment beats and pink neon lights. Johnson’s use of poetry and personal storytelling brought the show rave reviews when it debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. Now’s your chance to catch it for a short and juicy one-night run. Rich Mix. Shoreditch High St Overground. Mar 18. £12.

Want something that’s literally underground? Find out what’s happening at Vault Festival

In other news... a sweet new music venue has just opened in King’s Cross

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