At lunchtime on Friday I was perusing my emails (as you do), deleting all the ones promising me 20% off sales on clothing websites (mustnotspendmoneyidonthavemustnotspendmoneyidonthave) and casting a cynical eye over any other remaining mail, when I came across a newsletter from Membership Plus. Basically it's a sort of sports and leisure scheme that employers in Northern Ireland can sign up to so that their employees can get various discounts and offers on everything from museums to hotels. Somehow I've ended up with one somewhere along the way and they now send me a newsletter every now and then with a new "exciting" offer. Ordinarily it's something I would never have any need for and, clickety-click, it ends up in my deleted items folder within seconds. However Friday's offering was somewhat more appealing...
"50 pairs of free tickets!", it proclaimed. Well "free" anything is always good but I am a pessimistic soul and generally believe that if it seems to good to be true, then it probably is. "Oh yes?", thought I, "and what ridiculous thing does one have to do to get their hands on said free tickets? Write in no more than 250 words why I want to go? Sign up to something? Give my personal details to some suspicious third party?"
Actually my cynicism was misplaced this time - all I had to do was call a number, give my name to the very friendly man on the phone and tell him what performance I wanted to attend and, hey presto, I was told I could pick up my tickets on the night. Awesomeness! I had scored free tickets to the hottest show in town, worth £24 each normally! And all through one tiny phone call. I immediately rang the Yorkshireman in the hopes of simultaneously making him nervous about attending the show in question and yet pleased by the freeness of the tickets. I was not disappointed.
And so what was this show that inspired fear in the heart of my husband and manic laughter from my colleagues? Yes folks, we were off to see The Lady Boys of Bangkok at Custom House Square!
I'd seen them setting up the marquee, box office, etc, both last year and for the few days before I got the tickets, so I sort of knew what to expect. It all looked very glitzy, with feathers and sequins galore! Oh, and of course a troupe of "ladies" who were born men. I think the name of the show kind of gives that aspect away, along with their Thai origins. I do love a good bit of cabaret and although my experience of transgendered entertainment has been pretty much limited to the Sunday night bingo at Union Street and a drag karaoke bar called Aladins on an eventful holiday to Turkey a few years ago, I do adore the fabulousness. Plus, most of the "ladies" have a better figure than I could ever hope to achieve without surgery! Bitches...
And so last night, off to Custom House Square we went ("hobbled" in my case because I cleverly decided to wear heels again - I should know better by now). We picked up our free tickets with neither muss nor fuss from the box office and then made our way into the marquee. It was delightful inside - you would hardly notice that you're in what is effectively a massive tent, with the mirrors and pretty lights hanging from the walls and ceiling. There was a full bar just inside the entrance in a sort of foyer area, alongside a food cart serving fragrant Thai food and a souvenir stand selling a variety of cabaret-themed items, like feather boas and DVDs of the show. We grabbed a couple of drinks and made our way into the main performance area of the marquee to find out where we were sitting. I had imagined that, since our tickets were free, we would be stuffed away in a dark corner at the back, but we were pleasantly surprised once again as we took our seats front and centre.
There was another bar in the main section of the marquee and so I went and grabbed another drink before the show started. I also grabbed a shot of Sambuca (£2.50) for the Yorkshireman to help him relax and embrace the full-on campness that I hoped we were about to enjoy. I hadn't realised it was aniseed flavoured before I forced it upon my liquorice-hating husband... oops. No time to worry though, as the announcer declared that the Lady Boys of Bangkok were ready to entertain us.
I won't spoil the show by giving all the details of the performances, but there was a great mix of contemporary hits, retro wonders and cheeky, funny numbers. The Yorkshireman was very impressed with the impeccable timing of their choreography and I was very impressed by the extremely attractive topless man doing aerial rope acrobatics. Just kidding (although he was a bit yummy in a George Clooney kind of way), I was quite impressed with the whole thing. The costumes are spectacular and I really liked their more comical numbers. I do wish they could put a bit more effort into their miming though - it doesn't really look like they're singing along, which is something even the part-time drag queens at Union Street have mastered, so there's no excuse. All in all it was a good night out, especially for free (thank you kind Membership Plus people!).
Of course as we walked out of the marquee, giddy with a night of cabaret, bright lights and the decadent smells of Thai food, it was completely pissing it down (oh yes, we're in Belfast, not Bangkok, remember?) and we just missed a bus home. Damn. In the end, after getting drenched walking through the bucketing rain, we went for a quick drink in Whites Tavern (grateful for their real fire to dry us out and warm us up a little). We did indeed look like tramps compared to the beauty of the Lady Boys but the occupants of Whites didn't seem to mind. We braved the rain again to rush home on the next bus and spent the rest of the evening watching NHL. From men who like to be ladies dancing beautifully, to men who like to be men throwing each other up against plexiglass... it was an evening of contradictions, but I enjoyed it very much.
So would I go again? Perhaps not at £24 a ticket but if the price was right I would definitely go back and enjoy another evening with the Lady Boys. It's nice to have fun every now and then, especially when that fun is increased when you tell people what you did at the weekend and watch their eyebrows raise inquisitively!