Candy Warhol, the Cork-native drag queen and star of last year’s RTÉ documentary Kin of Kweens, as well as host of TV’s Dragony Aunts and the Friends of Dorothy podcast, has teamed up with her drag sister from the opposite end of the country, Donegal’s Marian Mary The 6th, to create a show that is billed as ‘a love letter to Ireland’s pop culture pioneers’, and an exploration of Candy’s camp connections to Ireland that drew her home from living abroad.
“It’s a surreal take on my final days living in London before moving home to Ireland and the struggles I faced while making that decision,” Candy continues. “Falling in the door after yet another boozy London gig, I’m visited by the spirit of Marian Mary The 6th who guides me back to Ireland, meeting several Irish queer icons along the way.”
The show originally took the form of a cabaret performed in the UK, but has since grown to become the play that will be performed during this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival. And if queer icons weren’t enough, the duo will be joined by guest stars to help propel Candy on her journey.
As with many projects hitting stages and screens at the moment, the genesis of The Wind That Shakes the Wig occurred online during the throes of the pandemic. “Although Marian and I met face to face for the first time in London for the cabaret, we actually met each other virtually while hosting a Eurovision Zoom event for GCN (GCN: bringing queens together!),” she recalls. Once that connection had been made, and the circumstances aligned for a live show to be performed, the queens got straight to it. “The original idea for the show was a queer Irish cabaret in London which I ran in August 2021. It was our first live show back after two years away… That night in London was so special to us because not only was it our first night back on stage, but it was also the first night out for the majority of our (sold-out) audience, many of whom were Irish. The atmosphere was electric and although it was a comedy show, it was really emotional for everyone, especially for those who had not been able to travel home yet.”
That nostalgia for Ireland, along with the celebration of queer icons that is rooted deep in the show’s DNA, led Candy and Marian’s creative process early on — with that Eurovision event providing key inspiration and a solid foundation for their work. “We clicked right away over our love of Eurovision and queer Irish icons, so I knew that Eurovision was where we had to start when it came to choosing our icons,” says Candy. “Although the show had no story originally, we discussed and explored why we felt attached to these icons, many of whom we paid tribute to that night, and what they meant to us. We knew we had the makings of a play, which I then wrote and developed with the Dublin Fringe in mind. That sense of community and celebration of all things queer and Irish is what we want to bring to the Fringe.”
I’m curious to learn what makes a queer icon for Candy, given the nebulous nature of that title and the vast variety of people it has been bestowed upon. “While we have so many incredible icons within our community, I think as queer people we find ourselves attached to iconic female figures that are usually glamorous, incredible performers and exude confidence, which growing up we may not have had ourselves,” she explains. “But for me, the most important element and what I think makes the perfect queer icon is their story, their struggle, and their journey. The classic example will always be Judy Garland, whose life was a bittersweet mix of glamour and tragedy. She was, like most icons, an underdog and I think this is why we see ourselves in them and champion them before anyone else will. Just ask Lisa Scott-Lee!”
While their Eurovision night together provided a starting point, there are plenty of legendary Irish queer icons who could be picked to shine the spotlight on in a show like this. So how did Candy and Marian narrow it down? “For the show itself, it made sense for the story to focus solely on queer Irish icons, as otherwise it would literally be neverending. The five icons we decided to focus on, who help guide me on my journey, all have a connection and a link to each other, so it flows quite organically, and with each reveal the show gets camper and camper,” she teases.
While the show is queer-created and targeting a queer audience, I wonder if there’s a tension between celebrating queer icons rather than celebrating icons who are queer: do we lose something by not elevating members of our own community? “I think with the right balance and intention, there is perfect harmony in celebrating iconic figures as ‘queer’ without them actually being queer while making sure we spotlight and uplight iconic figures within our community,” Candy argues. “We see ourselves in Hollywood starlets and music legends who may have faced struggles and go against the grain of their peers. We root for the underdogs because the majority of us have always felt like one. Linda Martin and Nadine Coyle are perfect Irish examples of this. Pride festivals worldwide are often headlined by nostalgic female pop acts who mostly say that their biggest fanbase is the queer community. This connection is usually natural because we support these singers through their ups and downs and want to celebrate and support them. What can be harmful and inauthentic is when an act or their team purposely queer-baits the community to promote a following and I think it’s up to us as a community to call this out.”
When it comes to harmful behaviour, though, one need not look further than the attacks and denunciation facing drag performers and the art form from certain groups in recent times. It would be remiss to talk to a drag performer working today without touching on the environment that they’re performing in. “While the attacks on the drag community in person and online from Trans exclusionary groups have been extremely upsetting and distressing for all of us, it’s more important than ever for us to stay active and visible by continuing to create queer art, queer theatre and queer spaces,” Candy states. “We touch a little on this during the show. I also think that given the saturation of drag and the public’s limited knowledge of what they think it is, due to Drag Race, it’s important for all types of drag styles and performances to have a space and for us to keep the punk underground roots of drag alive. I think the Dublin Fringe and drag performers around Ireland have done a fantastic job recently of creating these spaces which we need to continue doing.
Drag is at a commercial peak currently and as a performer I’ve never been busier, but I have at times found myself trying to find the balance of work and art. Writing and producing this show for the Fringe has been so refreshing and the recharge I needed.”
That fight and willingness to take action has resulted in what Candy says is the unabashedly queer spectacle that audiences can look forward to when they come to see the show in September. “It’s an unashamedly queer show that we created for ourselves and our community - there wasn’t a chance we were toning ourselves down for a broader appeal! The show is filled to the brim with queer pop culture references: easter eggs and quotes from our favourite queer movies, singers and icons are scattered throughout the script, story and set. We hope they will make our audience scream throughout!”
The Wind That Shakes the Wig will be performed on 16 and 17 September, in the Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin. Tickets are available from fringefest.com.