For a short while he was the most beautiful woman in my life: Lavinia Coop. I saw him in the Melkweg in Amsterdam at the hilarious show Lust in Space.
Done by the Bloolips. 1980
A loose collective of performers, Bloolips hijacked the earnestness of 1970s gay theatre and turned it into a mad, satirical celebration of queerness littered with anthems called, for instance, Let’s Scream Our Tits Off. Early shows like Lust in Space and The Ugly Duckling, mostly written by playwright John Taylor, were dizzy celebrations with political punch.
Their aesthetic emerged more through necessity than choice. “The first Bloolips rehearsals were done in my flat in Notting Hill, seven of us tapdancing in a line. One afternoon we went downstairs for a coffee, and the ceiling had fallen in.” That set the tone for 20 years of glamour-on-a-budget; in their entire career, Bloolips only ever secured one grant. “Our costumes were made out of plastic laundry baskets, broken lampshades, any old tat from a skip or a 50p shop. We used mops as wigs”
The company toured Europe in VW vans, and finally made it to New York, which became their home-from-home. As Bloolips’ reputation grew in the 1980s, however, the hedonistic gay lib landscape was changing. Aids ravaged the London and New York queer arts scene, and Bloolips did not escape. Among the casualties was Diva Dan, a profoundly deaf, profoundly funny star of the troupe.
The Bloolips were a troupe of anarchic gender bending actors, performing hilarious spoofs on sexuality and society. They were outrageously camp, appearing on stage in costumes that had audiences screaming with laughter, usually made of recycled junk (my favorite was a dress made entirely of rubber gloves). They were subversive, warm and fuzzy at the same time. They were mostly gay men, but appealed to all sexes, genders, and orientations. Hardcore lesbians were known to swoon when watching company member Lavinnia Coop perform. Each performer brought his own unique style and charm to the work.
The London-based group was more than gaudy costumes made of junk, The Bloolips used “androgyny as a vantage point totally outside straight society” allowing them to comment and criticize not just gender roles but the arms race, American electoral politics, political repression, rampant consumerism and the parade of western culture… and thats just what I can asses from two works: Lust in Space and Get-Hur. The music in each production, which seems banal and stylistically cookie-cutter fashioned at first, is transformed by powerful lyrics.
As members of many underground transvetite performance groups seem to cross polinate frequently, it is no surprise that the Bloolips, whose memebrs have been part of the Hot Peaches, made a joint endeavor with the Split Britches Company in reenvisioning Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire as Belle Reprieve.
On Belle Reprieve and cross dressing, Bourne says:
“Who would not want to play Blanche? Yet I was always very keen to play her as a man in drag, and not try to be a woman. When I was living in drag it was very clear that I was a man – I wasn’t passing as a woman. (Although I have played women in two different plays in the last few years – which I thoroughly enjoyed.) It was very important for me to be myself , in other words a man in a frock – a new idea about a man. I think men look great in frocks, and I don’t really see that we have to impersonate women necessarily, so in that sense I’m not really a Drag Queen. Although I’ve done drag parts and absolutely adored it.”
This was one Bloolips last productions. The group unofficially dissolved in the early nineties, though individual members (especially Bossy Bette Bourne and Lavinia Co-Op) continue careers as avante-garde performers.