An imposingly large, blank canvas sits at the front of the stage, as Ave Maria softly begins to play. The audience is calmly expectant, until a knife rips through the canvas and our host bursts out from the surface like Alien, wearing an expression only comparable to Edvard Munch’s The Scream. This is Auntie Climax, drag queen and founder of EAT ME + PREACH. She tears more holes in the canvas, sticking her hands and feet through, waving the knife around maniacally. When she finally falls out of the canvas onto centre-stage, three stage hands scramble to dress her in a ridiculously tight, red PVC dress and wig. Breathless from the whole encounter, she staggers, turning around to tell the DJ to cut the track; “Weh weh… Welcome to… Eat Me!”
Before Auntie Climax, began Eat Me + Preach, she recalls feeling underwhelmed by Liverpool’s queer entertainment scene. “We used to go out in gay town and kinda storm it, but not really feel welcome. And we got frustrated that all of these gay spaces were filled with straight people, where the music was shit, the drinks were expensive and we had to manufacture our own fun.” Eat Me started as an afterthought when Climax was pitching a different idea for a theatre event it the Invisible Wind Factory’s basement. When the meeting went well he decided to throw in another idea: drag dinner. “I wanted to combine food and drag. That’s my shtick as an artist, I suppose – putting things together that don’t usually go together.” The first Eat Me, she says, was “under resourced” and “messy as fuck”. “I was involved in literally everything. I went off stage, tossed the salad in nails, went back on and hosted. That was the first one, and after that the queers and the freaks just got involved along the way.”
One of these queers/freaks who were there from the start is the most illustrious and stunning drag queen Midgitte Bardot (aka Tammy Reynolds). She was so blown away by her first Eat Me experience that she felt compelled to share her knowledge from working in the arts, to help the night grow. “I was absolutely gobsmacked by every single thing that I saw, but the most interesting thing to me was that at the end of the night, Auntie Climax came on stage and sang a Roy Orbison song. She was obviously quite frazzled at this point, and I assumed it was part of the performance, when she walked off stage I said to my friend ‘Was that it? Is this the end?’ and she was like, ‘Well, she is called Auntie Climax…’ I thought it was so clever. I’ve told Auntie Climax this since, and she told me that I’d got it wrong and it wasn’t intentional, but that made me like it even more.”
Midgitte Bardot’s performance tonight is intoxicating. The theme for the night being the September Issue, Tammy wants to explore the relationship between fashion and queerness: “Fashion is somehow queer, but it’s also over the years been incredibly oppressive to queer people, because fashion is gendered and binary and the industry isn’t kind – especially to disabled bodies.” When Midgitte Bardot is on stage she’s only wearing underwear. Images flash across the projector screen of thin models on runways and the seven dwarves from Snow White. She sings a dark, slow rendition of All The Small Things by Blink-182, as another performer comes out and starts tying pieces of fabric tightly around her waist, legs and arms. The knots look uncomfortable, painful. There is a heavy feeling in the room when she sings “no no no no…” as she is gagged by another piece of fabric. Suddenly, the song cuts off and we hear the infamous clip of Tyra Banks shouting at a contestant in America’s Next Top Model, as Midgitte frantically runs down the runway lip-syncing to Tyra’s rant. She then storms off stage and the audience hesitantly begins to clap, not knowing if she would return or not. She doesn’t, rightfully, and afterwards she explains why: “I didn’t come back on stage and say, ‘Don’t worry, it’s all OK’, because it’s not OK, and it would have diminished everything I’d done.”
Eat Me + Preach welcomes entertainers of any kind. It emerged out of the dissatisfaction of feeling excluded by the rigidity of pre-existing performance spaces – everyone who is a part of the Eat Me team, or is a regular performer, has a similar story and expresses the same gratitude for Eat Me’s existence. “It’s encouraging of mistakes. There are no rules of what your drag has to be, or what you have to be like,” Carl Pattrick tells me, the third member of the Preach team and a gorgeous, bearded drag queen known as Babs Darling. Carl moved to Liverpool from London, where he had a successful drag career with a group he formed called Legs And Coq (the q is silent (it’s not)). However, he felt a similar disappointment to Brendan with the drag scene feeling inflexible and exclusive. Meeting Brendan and getting involved with Eat Me has given Carl a queer, inclusive setting for both performance and generally just meeting up. “I’d always really wanted to be a part of something that created, like, a queer nexus. There are so many queer people in and around Liverpool, and there’s nowhere for them to meet. I don’t see them when I’m out and about – where the fuck do these guys go? Everybody seemed to go to Manchester or to London because things are always happening there, but why the fuck can’t we make something happen here?” Carl’s drag plays with the boundaries of gender; while bearded and very masculine, she presents as a very soft feminine character. This gorgeous, confusing sight interferes with our preconceived ideas about how we categorise gender in the first place.
Eat Me + Preach is a multidisciplinary event, so it’s difficult to predict what you’re going to see. One of the most breathtaking performances of the night is Day Mattar’s poetry. Completely naked, he walks over to a mannequin sitting on a chair facing the audience and begins cutting the mannequin’s hair. Our nude hairdresser reads his poem colloquially, laughing occasionally or pausing in thought. The tangible intimacy this creates heightens our emotional involvement with the words. Day has always wondered why there is such little experimentation with how poetry is read. “Not to be negative about anyone else’s style of poetry, but I didn’t want to be one of those gobshite poets who stands up on a stage all lofty like a priest. It works for some people, but I just get turned off by it. I feel like I’m being spoken at, rather than spoken to.” The audience watch the scene unfold like a play. It feels like when a hairdresser accidentally says something profound that changes your life. Having recently moved back to Liverpool from New Zealand, Day was initially concerned that the city would have nothing for him. “I’m so happy to be back and all this shit is happening, because I was so nervous I was going to come home, and the winter was going to kill me, and I’d have nothing to do, but it’s beautiful. I’m so happy I’ve found this little clan.” Eat Me has provided that feeling for performers and audience members alike. It is truly a nurturing environment for queers to interact with each other and experiment in their respective art forms.
Aside from local acts, Eat Me + Preach bring artists from around, and outside of, the UK to come and perform for their audience. Tonight, we are graced with the unnerving presence of screaming poet and artist Liv Fontaine who lives in Glasgow, and Marilyn Misandry from Manchester. Next on is Kevin Le Grand, who thankfully is moving back to Liverpool from London to live, perform and make this city her home again. Kevin embodies the September Issue theme in a way that was as punk as it was glamorous, wearing a beautiful, pink satin gown with ‘ACAB’ emblazoned across the front. Kevin has been at Eat Me + Preach many times, and this time she performs twice, in two different outfits. The first performance is a hysterically funny interpretive dance describing her journey – moving to London to study fashion, dropping out, and leaving a drag performer. “She hurts me, she makes me laugh so much that I always feel injured by the next day after seeing her,” Brendan says. When I meet with Kevin I have to ask about her second performance of the night; a gloomy, theatrical cover of Cheeky Song by The Cheeky Girls. “I’m really into changing songs and putting different spins on them. I have another one where I sing Madonna’s Material Girl, but it’s called Affordable Girl and it’s all about rising house prices.”
The final performance of the night is Gez Mercer, who, as part of the theatre collective Hungry Bitches Productions, is a regular here. He starts his act with a monologue: “I’ve been terribly sick…” He’s wearing a huge white T-shirt with a hospital red cross stitched on the front. He tells the audience a relatable tale; trying to get help for mental illness through the NHS and being turned away. “We’re making shit happen and sharing work which is often about pain and trauma, as well as the experience we all have in common – being othered for years. It’s great to get that all out on the table and be able to speak about it.” Everyone I have spoken to about Eat Me has been clear about the contentment they feel from being a part of a welcoming queer community, but none so much as Gez. He is totally open about his mental health struggles, and how the growing scene in Liverpool has helped him along the way. Eat Me + Preach, Beers For Queers and Sonic Yootha create an endlessly welcoming atmosphere, and even more events are appearing as time goes on that subscribe to the same ethos of acceptance. “I never thought I’d be in this family of queer weirdos, and now I am and it’s fab, it makes you feel really good about yourself. For once, finally, we’re the cool gang in this – and there’s no hierarchy, it’s all love.” After his monologue, Gez plays guitar while his friend sings a melancholic song he wrote called One Bad Day. At the end of Gez’s set, he comes out triumphantly in a cape and glittering pasties. “It’s not about performing as either gender for me. Every time I get into drag, I just try to look like a super-person.” As he performs Baby’s On Fire by Die Antwoord, audience members and other performers from the night rush onto the stage to dance with him.
The future for Eat Me and the queer scene in Liverpool from this point seems full of opportunity and possibility. Everyone involved has a million ideas for things that they want to see happen. Day wants to set up a sex positive, queer poetry night; Brendan and Carl are considering an Eat Me + Preach scratch night, where new aspiring performers would be able to test their material; Tammy talks about having a drag flea-market. The momentum and energy behind Liverpool’s queer creatives is undeniable. When I ask Brendan where he wants this all to go, he says “I just want people to feel like they can make it their own: I want to include performers of colour, international performers, more disabled performers, more trans performers, drag kings! Where are they? I want to push the multidisciplinary idea even further – how weird can we get?”