So, I’m pretty excited right now. There’s a new show coming to town which features fabulous drag queens and pays homage to my favourite documentary of all time. Welcome to Return to Grey Gardens.
About five years ago, someone introduced me to a mother and daughter so unlike any other I’d seen before that I was an instant fan of the women.
I’ve always been drawn to stories about mothers and daughters, perhaps because of the complicated relationship I have with my own mum. Nothing, however, compares to that of ‘Big Edie’ and ‘Little Edie’, captured by Albert and David Maysles, the documentary filmmakers who followed these real-life women throughout the early 70s. I’d become a little obsessed with them and their home, Grey Gardens (also the title of the film). So too had Joshua Grannell, aka Peaches Christ, who takes on the role of ‘Big Peachy’ in this new show.
“I first saw this film 20 years ago at the Castro Theatre after I’d recently relocated to San Francisco and I had no idea what I was in for,” says Christ. “These are women that many queer people could identify with, especially those of us with dreams of being accepted in show business or in high society. We saw ourselves in them.”
In 1975, the brothers Maysles were allowed access into the everyday lives of two upper class Bouvier Beale women who, despite their lineage, lived in absolute poverty and squalor in their derelict mansion in the East Hamptons, New York. The former society ladies also happened to be the aunt and first cousin of US First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy.
I wonder if we’re going to see scenes and direct quotes from the documentary? Perhaps we’ll leap off a cliff into a big, queer whirlpool of crazy but distant homage?
Christ says: “It’s definitely not a straight re-creation of what you know in the original documentary but rather a re-telling of the story through our own drag characters. It’s as if Jinkx and Peaches have become these wonderful archetypes. We are playing ourselves playing them onstage. Does that make it meta? I just want to sound smart. The plot is that Jinkx and Peaches have been doing the same Grey Gardens parody for 40 years and the theatre is now in ruins, infested with raccoons and feral cats and the drag mother/daughter duo are at odds about whose fault it all is.”
And what of Peaches Christ herself, an American underground drag performer, filmmaker and actor?
“Peaches was born in my senior thesis film Jizzmopper: A Love Story,” she says. “I was a film student at Penn State University and had a drag character in this film and when the actor wasn’t working out, I stepped in and played the part. We changed her name to Peaches and shot the film.”
Based in San Francisco, where her Backlash Production Company is located, Christ explains the development of her drag performance.
“I’d already studied improv theatre so when I married that training with the drag character, it really all started to make sense. I moved to San Francisco in 1996 after I graduated and fell in with a grungy drag cabaret show called Trannyshack where I met tons of friends and creative collaborators that I work with to this day. The show pushed the boundaries of what drag could be and after a couple years, I launched Midnight Mass which was a drag show and celebration of cult movies.”
Grey Gardens is a cult classic and has been celebrated and cited many times over by countless fans. Those in the know gush about the film and its subjects. And us die-hard fans are part of a very special club. We share it with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange who appeared in the HBO feature film of the same name, and we share it with Rufus Wainwright who wrote a song which appears on his 2001 album Poses. We also share the secret with other drag artists like Sharon Needles who appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race dressed as Little Edie.
Return to Grey Gardens comes to Manchester after a successful USA tour. I wonder why Peaches Christ is so keen to bring it to our fair city.
“Oh my god, my romantic love affair with Manchester started long before I ever arrived here. In high school I became obsessed with Joy Division, New Order and The Smiths, which led me to creating a very romantic idea of what gloomy Manchester must be like. And when I was able to first perform here in 2010 alongside my movie premiere for All About Evil, I must say I was not disappointed. I had the best time. I just love Manchester.”
You can see Peaches Christ, Jinkx Monsoon and all the other dragulous performers in Return to Grey Gardens at Manchester’s Contact Theatre, October 14-15, 2016. Tickets here.