There are some things that are just wrong, and huntsmen in tutus definitely fall into that category. Yet, somehow, it seemed to work at the Duke of Beaufort’s v VWH Strictly Drag night at Ian Carling’s Barn Theatre, Ingleside, Cirencester, and caused mass hysteria. Hunting folk need to do something to while away the long evenings after the end of the season, and these two Gloucestershire hunts rose to the challenge in boisterous style.
Drinks in the garden seemed to signal the true start of summer, and got everyone in a suitably relaxed frame of mine for the coming entertainment. First, to remind everyone what the evening was for, a glorious film of the Beaufort hounds in the snow was shown that sent a tingle down everyone’s spines. Then the memories of the season were swept away as the screen turned lurid with the opening celebrity names of Strictly Come Dancing—only to be replaced with the announcement that, as they weren’t available, such luminaries as Bobby Faber and Tony Holdsworth would be replacing them.
It all began innocently enough, with comperes Captain Ian Farquhar MFH and Martin Scott, smart in green velvet jackets, introducing the neatly attired judges: Henry Berkeley MFH of the Berkeley, Nigel Peel MFH of the North Cotswold, Alistair Jackson, director of the MFHA, and, drum roll, local celebrity Ruby Wax! Presently the direction the evening was destined to take was firmly indicated by the entrance of Antony Brassey of the Beaufort, gorgeous in a ruffled yellow frock and blond wig, who accompanied a tuxedo-clad Trish Richards in the waltz.
The VWH countered with a terrifying Duncan Drewett in a short red dress and fishnets being swept around the floor by Linee Hill, and so it went on. Next was the rumbunctious Greek Dance, the highlight of which was Rupert Sturgis’ sexy white tights falling down round his ankles—apparently he didn’t notice until he tried to do a high kick and failed… Next came a salsa, and then, before the interval, the ballet. One tutu-clad member of the VWH trotted elegantly on stage, hands raised above his head in the accepted fashion. He was soon joined by five of his fellows, also tutu clad, but with the more unusual accessories of green wellies and hunting whips, which were employed to decidedly unballerina-like effect.
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From the Beaufort, Richenda Deutsch and the Compton Bassett Corp de Ballet brought the house down with their delicate steps, demure blond wigs and astonishing painted eyebrows. Huntsman Tony Holdsworth’s hot-pink knickers were a particular hit. According to Ruby Wax, a career on the London stage beckons for one hilariously gloomy ballerina…watch this space!
After some much needed lubrication in the interval, we returned to find Scottie and Captain had succumbed to the frock fetish. Captain cast aspersions on Scottie’s striped ankles, whereupon Scottie took a closer look at Captain’s rump, shapely in glittering silver lame… I am informed that neither are strangers to such attire, about which the less said the better. From this point on, the commentary became increasingly unrepeatable, but a request for more ‘bump and grind’ was heard from the eminent Mr Jackson, and Ruby Wax was vocal about who had the best breasts (Casper West of the Beaufort in the jive).
The last act of the night was the Group Song and Dance, in which YMCA became a raucous VWH. Finally, the bright young things of the Beaufort—Niki Sturgis, Rose Farquhar, Guy Pelly, Alex Rose, Kitty Bishop, Tom Faber and James Meade—exploded on stage in lurid flared catsuits (girls with chest hair, boys with long wigs) for a roof-raising performance of ABBA that gained an unprecedented 41 points out of 40.
As the scores were totted up, Rose Farquhar and Venetia Williams donned hunting dress for a rousing rendition of Master of the Hunt, with apologies to Les Miserables, and chased a shell-suited fox around the stage. Finally, they gave the stage over to Scottie and Captain once more, who revealed that the Beaufort had carried the night with 210 points to 190. If, God forbid, the members of the Beaufort were no longer able to (trail) hunt, they could always turn to showbusiness—they triumphed in the Sunday performance, too, by 226 to 222.
I have seldom been to a more surreal evening, but I laughed harder than I have in a long time. All credit must go to the organisers (my host Fi Mitchell, Jo Aldridge, Camilla Taylor, Suzie Belsham, Countess Susie Goess-Saurau and Linee Hill), the judges, the indefatigable backstage crew and, of course, the tutu-clad, high-kicking, besequinned performers for making Strictly Drag a tremendous success.
Now, I wonder how many of the audience will think twice before picking up their hunting whips next season…