Doo Bee Boobies comes of age deliciously

Robert Whitehead heads up Doo Bee Boobies. Photograph by John Hogg, courtesy Auto & General Theatre on the Square .

Robert Whitehead heads up Doo Bee Boobies. Photograph by John Hogg, courtesy Auto & General Theatre on the Square .

Even before the lights go down, in anticipation of the start of this, the 21st season of Doo Bee Boobies, Eartha Kitt’s 1953 number I want to be evil filters through the bordello-like redness of the theatre, lending a lush and earnestly hilarious tone to something so extraordinary, skilful and delicious, it will lift and move you and make you laugh with sheer abandon, no matter how dreadful your day was. And as the lights go down, and the mascara brushes are raised, that lushness is taken and stretched in every conceivable definition of the term. There are even a couple of sisters bearing it as a surname as they shakily emerge from the confines of the Betsy Verwoerd Rehab Centre.

On and off stage since the early 1990s, this fantastic slice of men only burlesque would make Fanny Brice, a queen of the discipline, proud. The ‘horrible prettiness’ we see on stage in Doo Bee Boobies is about the very nub of what entertainment means. In stripping down the petty vanities informing stage divas, in taking apart the notion of ageing bodies and in celebrating seriously mature stage presence, it will make you laugh till you sob.

There isn’t a moment in this lipstick-smeared revue where you catch yourself thinking deeper into the shenanigans you see on stage, but as you wend your way home, drunk as you are with having laughed too much, the reality of the show having reached the milestone of 21 years is a sobering thought. This all male revue is not a drag show. But it is a show which celebrates sex as frankly and directly as it can. It’s gay, it’s crude, it’s direct and it’s most certainly not for the easily offended. Embracing a contemporary world that would have done more than frown at the gay abandon of the piece 21 years ago, it is about a level of freedom of expression that we have imbibed in this internet-riddled generation.

The production wasn’t banned in the 1990s when it first debuted, but it might have been less gritty in its hilarity: the stalwarts of the piece, Robert Whitehead, Mark Hawkins and Tony Bentel may have been more svelte and beautiful than they are now, on one level, but as they become longer and longer in the tooth, their performance becomes more and more delicious in its wise, fond and developed celebration of life, the idea of ageing and our irrevocable ownership of this moment.

Stephen van Niekerk, who has been with the production since 2010, has one of the finest voices we’ve seen on stage for a while, reaching across registers. Kingsley Beukes, formerly of Kelsey Middleton’s KMad is a beautiful young dancer and reprises the role of The Baby. Both of these performers touch classical beauty in their approach. Their solo works are curious: when they happen, your mouth is already so strained from laughing, you’re not always sure how to respond to their pieces: are they too pretty to pump up the laughter stakes? Ultimately, their presence lends the piece balance, even in the presence of dancers armed with cigarettes and supported by aluminium walkers and extremely high heeled shoes.

With a thin storyline of mayhem and badness that reaches from Madrid to India, the work comprises a range of music – from Saint-Saëns’ Swan to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake; from a celebration of James Bond and Pussy Galore to a hilarious lip sync of Tammy Wynette’s (1968) Stand by your Man. Some of it is spoofed lyrically. Some of it is spoofed through movement. With a bit of Afrikaans poetry tossed in here and the excruciatingly funny Bulgarian Balloon Dance there, it’s a rollicking tribute to the tawdry, the tempered and the tiresome; it’s a context in which you might get to see more of Robert Whitehead than you’ve ever wished for, but one in which you might well be tempted, unsolicited, to rush onstage and dance.

  • Doo Bee Boobies, the 21st Anniversary Season is conceived and directed by Mark Hawkins with lighting by Nicholas Michaletos, choreography, set design, costume and jewellery design, staging and musical arrangements by Mark Hawkins. It is performed by Tony Bentel; Kingsley Beukes; Mark Hawkins; Robert Whitehead; and Stephen van Niekerk, with guest appearances at Saturday shows by Mark Banks, Bruce Little and Robert Coleman, until November 15 at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square in Sandton.
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