Gals Aloud producer Christopher Clegg: ‘We’re much more than just a drag show’
Producer Christopher Clegg knew he had a hit on his hands with a drag tribute to Girls Aloud, but trying to secure shows beyond London proved to be more difficult than he expected. He tells Paul Vale about the challenges of selling the show to the press, who he fears see it as ‘just another drag show’
Christopher Clegg is one of the few young producers out there who manages to fuse old-school light entertainment with a genuinely contemporary vision. That vision is currently bringing a drag version of hit pop group Girls Aloud around the UK.
Born in Preston, Lancashire, Clegg moved to London in 2008. As a producer, he was responsible for bringing a range of diverse acts to the British stage, as well as productions of Cool Rider and Zelda.
Clegg’s artistic choices are never predictable. Neither was his decision to slip into drag in 2013 to create Miss Rosie Beaver. This flirtation with drag led to the creation of the Tuck Shop, a production and management company specialising in drag entertainment.
From this initiative, Clegg has embarked on an ambitious tour – a drag-parody tribute to Girls Aloud. Gals Aloud parodies the highs and lows of Cheryl Tweedy, Nadine Coyle, Sarah Harding, Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh, from the group’s inception on ITV’s Popstars: The Rivals to episodes in the girls’ solo careers.
“And Javine Hylton,” Clegg adds of the performer who missed out on a spot in the group during the reality show. “We’ve got her in the show having her comeback moment because everyone assumed that she was going to get in Girls Aloud and that Sarah Harding wouldn’t make it. So, yeah – we bring Javine back.”
The idea began as a scratch performance of sorts, when drag queen Cheryl Hole suggested a Girls Aloud night at the now-defunct Camden bar Her Upstairs.
“I just went as a punter and it was fairly busy,” says Clegg. “The bar probably held about 100 people, and it was half full. The show was rough around the edges – not quite a full show – and I said: ‘I think we could do something with this – jazz it up and turn it into a proper production.’”
Following this, Clegg set about creating a more polished show. They shot video promos, there was a lot of reworking on the backing tracks and the costumes and choreography were made over. This time the show sold out.
“The bar only held 150, but we sold nearly 200 tickets. We were definitely over capacity – and glad the council didn’t pop by that night. But we were: ‘Get that money. Get it.'”
‘A lot of people get their phones out, so we want to make sure the group look super-tight. Film lasts forever’
Clegg also had the smarts to invite somebody from Underbelly on the Southbank, who booked the Gals in to the 500-seat Spiegeltent. The show was a sell-out and Clegg began to formulate a modest UK tour, with dates including Brighton Fringe and London’s Underbelly Festival. He also brought in West End choreographer Simon Hardwick to cast an expert eye over the dance routines.
“We want to make sure they are presenting themselves as professionally as possible on stage,” says Hardwick. “In this concert-style set up, a lot of people are getting their phones out. We want to make sure they look super-tight if people are recording. One thing I learned when I was very young is that film lasts forever.”
Following the Underbelly debut last year, Clegg began trying out the show in Manchester, where it was also warmly received. Yet, for all the positive reaction generated by the show, booking further dates across the UK proved difficult. The show was suffering from an identity crisis.
“I think that’s because it’s a new idea and it might be confusing that we’re doing some theatres, some festivals and some clubs,” he says.
“From our point of view, these different venue styles was a conscious choice, showing off the versatility of the Gals and the production. But I think bookers looked at the tour list and couldn’t understand why we would play a theatre one night and then a club the other. The clubs we have booked in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool are the biggest clubs in the cities, and they’re really excited.”
What is perhaps most surprising is that Clegg has had a tepid reaction from the press when trying to get publicity. Clegg, who was head of marketing at Bill Kenwright Ltd for two years, knows how to create a buzz around a show: “We have a full trailer, we’ve got a teaser video, we’ve got production photography, we’ve got nice artwork and imagery. And, the only place that really picked it up was the Metro, which is great and a bigger audience than a solely gay publication, but it just seemed bizarre.”
“Everybody in the company and working on it is queer and LGBT+, and none of the gay press even batted an eyelid. The theatre press seem to be looking at this as if it’s ‘just a drag show’ and the gay press just seem to be covering the American queens a lot of the time. They rarely seem to cover independent British queens who are out there touring.”
The Gals Aloud UK Tour is now in full swing and has even received endorsement from Girls Aloud alumnus Coyle. Roberts is also keen to meet them when they play the east London festival Mighty Hoopla. Plans to extend the tour are in place and Clegg is considering adapting the model to other British girl groups.
Ultimately, tours such as this are built from the ground up, gathering momentum as ticket sales and demand increase. For the producer, it may seem a bit of a white-knuckle ride to begin with, but Clegg is both tenacious and pragmatic. He is already doing the groundwork for his next project, creating an immersive production of Romeo and Juliet set in the LGBT+ subculture of ‘houses’ and the ballroom community.
In the meantime, Gals Aloud are gearing up to slay audiences across the UK and perhaps change the press’ perception of British drag at the same time.
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