West End Bares made me think. A lot of things are iconic: Mariah Carey. The Battle of the Somme. Sliced bread. It is my belief that Jane McDonald is as iconic as all three of these things combined – if not more.
She’s the sporadic singer and Loose Women regular, and she’s in the same room as me, making scripted jokes about nudity and cocks. We’re in Cafe de Paris. The shitty narrative of my shitty life has finally led to my Dirty Dancing moment. Nobody puts Baby in the corner, but here I am in a crooked edge against the bar, watching choreography so energetic and sophisticated that it’s tiring to watch. Or maybe that was the £6 glass of wine talking.
Cafe de Paris in Leicester Square is an infamous venue, and considering my history of crowd-specific anxiety attacks it’s a credit to the night that I haven’t already had one. We’re packed in, in a huge underground ballroom complete with glittery chandeliers, dolled-up twink dancers and a bunch of rude barmen who won’t let me not pay the service charge. This is either a Moulin Rouge-themed wet dream or a manic-depressant heart attack.
I got sent a bunch of photos from a press release for West End Bares but I figured you’d much rather see the slightly blurry photos I took on @jdcbreach’s iPhone. Here is an example of the DANCING:
Check out those feathers. I am far too cynical for my own good about 80% of the time, but the dancing at West End Bares was stellar. You can chuck a concept around as much as you want, but at the end of the day people just want to be entertained by talent – and talent was there aplenty.
And here is a photo of the venue with me knocking back the aforementioned white wine. You can see from the people behind me that it was an odd demographic. A bunch of thirty-something women who looked like they were one step away from being on a hen-do, and your typical gay guy in a badly-fitted plaid shirt who’s obviously been to Specsavers.
At this point in the evening, we took a Vine. I thought it would embed wonderfully into this webpage but as a matter of fact Club De Paris happens to be underground and therefore totally void of signal. So I’ll turn to the press photos instead of a half naked S-Club Junior dancing.
Brian Conley was hilarious, if oddly-placed, as a host, and Lisa Riley was basically exactly as you’d imagine Lisa Riley being as a charity fundraiser for HIV: sweet, good-humoured, gorgeous. I was pretty sad she didn’t dance but I got over this soon after the entertainment of the West End dancers. Afterwards, I tried to sneak into the VIP area to take an ironic #selfie with Lisa Riley. This would now go here:
But alas, a bouncer grappled me to the ground (ie. asked me politely to leave) and I found myself in Burger King ordering a “large chips, please.” So if anything else, this HIV fundraiser reminded me of exactly how typical my gay lifestyle is. Vices, limp wrists, and the occasional catty comment. There is something wonderful about seeing a venue as iconic as Cafe De Paris go all-out to defeat an illness that still terrifies the gay community. West End Bares might not be the antidote to the sixty second agony while you wait for the result of a rapid-response HIV test. But it’s an uplifting place to start.
The Make A Difference Trust (MAD Trust), responsible for West End Bares, has been the entertainment industry’s response to sexual health and in particular HIV and AIDS for over 22 years. The Trust works to provide HIV prevention tools and education programmes to theatres, drama schools and the wider public. In 2013 the Trust launched its most significant programme to date, under the banner ACT Now! – Be Aware, Take Control, Get Tested. The Trust also provides crisis and back to work support across the industry. Whilst the majority of the Trust’s work is in the UK, it also operates in southern Africa where through education and health services it recently supported its 14,000th child, orphaned by AIDS.
The night saw the launch of the charity’s 2014 calendar, which sees ‘Calendar Girls’ style photos of top West End casts in all their glory. Shows such as Wicked, Les Miserables, and Mamma Mia! have all dared to bare to support a great cause. You can support the cause by buying the 2014 calendar at their website: www.madtrust.org.uk/west-end-bares