Musical satirists Bourgeois & Maurice (aka cabaret performers Liv Morris and George Heyworth) reckon their latest show is, in common with a Kanye gig, a ‘feast for the eyes’ - but with a smaller budget and bigger egos.
We recently caught up with the London-based dynamic duo to find out what Midlands audiences can expect when the pair visit the Birmingham Hippodrome this month...
How did you first meet?
B: We met at university. When we left, we lived together for a year in a house which was a former brothel. Whilst we lived there, we used to mess around and make up songs and kind of just twat about together. After we moved out, we lived in separate houses but were still friends. George booked himself into an open-mic cabaret night at Madam JoJo’s in London. I said, ‘Oh, can I do something with you, mate? I feel like I want to get up on stage.’ So we just wrote a couple of songs. The gig went well and we got an interview in Time Out. They asked when our next gig was, but we didn’t actually have one - we hadn’t thought that far ahead. So we called up a friend who ran a night and asked if we could do something. It just went from there, really.
How has your performance evolved since coming together?
M: Essentially it’s the same characters and the same act, but I think the way we feel about it now is very different to when we started out. I think when we began we had absolutely no idea what we were doing. It’s not like there’s a template for this kind of thing. We were probably a bit meaner. Sometimes, when you’re a bit insecure about what you’re doing on stage, it can make you kind of freeze up a bit, and that can sometimes come across as being mean. You can see it with a lot of drag acts in their early years. A drag queen’s act can be really mean, but when it becomes good is when they can be mean but funny at the same time, and kind of invite you into it. But it takes a while to get to that point. To begin with, you’re just trying to cover up the fact that you have no fucking clue what you’re doing on stage. I enjoy it more now than when I started because I feel more comfortable with it. I think we’re much more outward-looking. The show we’re bringing to Birmingham, How To Save The World Without Really Trying, is kind of about globalism. It’s trying to get into the heads of as many people as we can, whereas beforehand we were more interested in the immediate world around us.
What strapline would you use to sell your performance?
B: I guess it’s like an absurd, queer look at the state of the world. With some great outfits and some good rhymes.
M: What I say in the show is a couple of extraterrestrial weirdo things about politics, which is what it comes down to. I never know how to sum it up in one strapline. It’s a couple of draggy aliens who’ve stumbled on current affairs.
Which fellow artists have provided you with the most inspiration?
B: On the sort of queer-performance scene, I guess David Hoyl is a huge inspiration. We've worked with him a couple of times and he’s great. And Jonny Woo, Scotty are contemporary artists who’ve provided us with inspiration. And also the kind of shit-storm that is the world today, sadly - that’s our inspiration too. Depressing inspiration.
M: There are so many amazing performers out there. We perform a lot at the Soho Theatre in London, and that’s massively inspirational. We’ve met so many amazing people there, like Lady Rizo and Spencer Jones, who’s hilarious. There are loads of people who’ve inspired us.
Who provides you with the most material - Theresa May or Donald Trump?
M: We started writing this show at the beginning of last year. There was a point where we were doing shows in New York, so Trump was kind of the bigger feature of those because we were playing to an American audience. We didn't really think that he was actually going to get in. So it started with Trump at the beginning of last year, and then Brexit happened and Theresa May became prime minister. With people coming into and going out of power really quickly, we didn’t have time to update the show every day, so we made it more about the kind of climate that we’re living in, rather than about the individuals. It’s more about this idea of division in the world and in society. That’s really the focus of the show because that’s the thing that we’re interested in.
What can Midlands audiences expect from your show at Birmingham Hippodrome this month?
B: Although it deals with subjects that are quite large, it’s very silly and hopefully quite a lot of fun. It should be an entertaining night, but with a few provocative questions involved in it. Hopefully, it’s not a ‘this is what we think’ message. It’s like ‘okay, this has happened, what do we think about it?’ We like to ask questions rather than just provide people with straight-up flashy answers.
M: Some very wonderful outfits and lots of things that light up. The big trend in 2017 is lights. Real avant-garde dance moves. They can expect a good time and a think. Little things to think about every now and then are scattered in the show. They can expect some confetti.
The show takes place whilst Birmingham Pride is on. Are you going to stop by and party?
M: I think we’re going to get down there early and hang out in Pride during the day. And I’m sure we’ll be going to some parties later on.
Speaking of Pride, do you think Pride festivals are still important in 2017?
B: Yes I do. They’ve changed in nature from what they were to begin with - and I think there are still a lot of questions to be asked about corporate adoption of Prides - but I think the existence of them is absolutely important.
M: Yes, I think they’re more important now than they’ve ever been. It’s not just about what they say in this country or to one community of people, it’s about what they say globally. I think Pride is really important to show that there’s a really happy, healthy, massive community of people. And it isn’t just LGBT people who go to Pride festivals. That’s what’s so nice about Pride - the people you see there are from all different walks of society.
Your attire is quirky and colourful. Is that purely on stage or does it reflect your personalities off stage?
B: It reflects our personalities off stage - although weirdly, I think a converse thing has happened, where the louder our outfits have become on stage, the quieter they’ve become off stage. I feel like I used to be a lot more avant-garde with my daytime wear when I wasn’t performing as much. The louder outfits have become ‘work uniform’, so my rebellion now is to wear normal clothes in the day.
M: I used to be much more flamboyant off stage - but now that we’re bigger on stage, I don’t feel the need to be. Yeah, I’d say my style is fairly flamboyant. I’m definitely enjoying a little bit of gender-fluid styling off stage at the moment.
Where’s the quirkiest venue you’ve ever performed?
B: When we first started out, we used to perform in an old toilet; an old public toilet in London that had been turned into a bar. It’s still there, called the Cellar Door. It’s absolutely teeny but it’s great, and I think it was a cottage for gays at some point in its history. We’ve done some weird corporate ones as well, but nothing as exciting as the toilet.
M: We used to play another place, which doesn’t exist anymore, called the Black Gardinier. It was a burlesque club in Soho where Paloma Faith used to play. The toilets reeked of piss. We had to get changed in a kitchen that was so tiny we had to hang our costumes on the dish rack! I kind of miss that place - it had an amazing atmosphere.
What does the future hold for Bourgeois & Maurice?
M: We’ll finish our summer tour in Australia, come back and start work on a brand new commission. I’m not allowed to say anything about it yet, though. This is for a much bigger show, which will be in 2019. That’s the next big project. We’re also working on a virtual reality project, so we’re going to have a VR music video coming out soon. I’ve got this fantasy that we can go out to an audience with VR headsets on and do a set-up of a show where they use the headsets to watch the performance.
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