DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED
Comedian Will Franken cross-dressed as a woman for six months last year. I only did it for seven hours on Saturday night.
On Sunday morning, I got a text from Sandra Smith, this blog’s South Coast correspondent, saying: “It’s the first time that I’ve ever walked into a pub with my tights around my ankles.”
A couple of months ago, performer Frank Sanazi (he sings like Frank Sinatra; looks like Adolf Hitler) asked me to come and see his new singing act ‘Elvis Corpsely’ – Elvis Presley back from the dead. He told me he was performing it for the first time at Torture Garden, the monthly BDSM fetish club.
And so he did this weekend, on Valentine’s Night (well, 9.00pm Saturday to 6.00am Sunday).
I went to Torture Garden maybe twenty years ago with comedian Tony Green. I blogged about it in 2011.
Tony knew Sophie Seashell, who had booked bizarre acts for that night. The Tiger Lillies performed. As did the extraordinary Andrew Bailey. In the cabaret section, it felt like they were trying to re-create a feel of the decadent Weimar Republic nightclubs in Germany between the Wars.
Twenty years ago, as now, Torture Garden had a dress code. Tony Green, wearing a white straw hat, a rather louche suit and looking a bit like Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation of Doctor Who. was told by the Torture Garden doorperson: “You’re OK. You look perverted.” Alas, my loud, hippie Indian-style shirt was not deemed a suitable costume. The people on the door conferred and suggested I take my shirt off so I was naked from the waist up, then take off my black leather belt and tie it diagonally across my chest with the buckle at the front.
With that, I was allowed in.
Since then, though, the dress code has been tightened, if that is the word to use.
Now the rules read:
You can’t wear a fetish top with normal black trousers or vice versa, we do not allow jeans, even black ones, no suits, no camo, no cotton underpants, no regular party dresses that you could wear to any club, no normal black trousers that you could wear anywhere and although full theatrical costumes are fine, cheesy fancy dress is not. Dresscode is enforced throughout the night. TG is a home for people that want to express the most extreme version of their fetish fantasy alter ego, so take this opportunity to push your boundaries.
BDSM and fetish are not my thing. I am quite happy with a picture of Baby Spice and a peach. So my wardrobe does not include anything remotely suitable.
So, on Saturday afternoon, I found myself in the car park at Beckenham railway station as Frank Sanazi handed over to me a long leather Gestapo coat – genuine, from the 1940s – and a small hand whip. He had temporarily lost his Nazi armband down the back of a bookcase in his living room.
This was my fallback costume. But I also know comedian Sara Mason, whose Edinburgh Fringe show this year will be called A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage.
Which is how I found myself in her bedroom in Fulham at teatime. She was – for reasons I did not ask – particularly keen that I should go in drag.
So I tried on various shoes, stockings, panties, black tops and wigs. Sara seemed unsettlingly keen on dressing me in a variety of things, though I did stop at the offer of a butt plug.
I was going to Torture Garden with this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith, also not a BDSM fan, who, while I was trying on my flattering fishnet tights in Fulham, was glueing studs onto her black jacket in Brighton.
Later that night I met Pete Cunningham – aka Frank Sanazi – at a pub in Elephant and Castle and he told me: “I’m playing Tel Aviv on the 7th of April.”
“As Frank Sanazi?” I asked.
“That should be interesting,” I said.
“I’m doing two gigs out there” he explained. “I’m opening for The Producers in Tel Aviv. It’s the first time they’ve shown the film out there. I’m doing my songs as a warm-up for the film. And I’m also doing a burlesque night – they have a dark burlesque night. I was a bit apprehensive at first, because imagine checking in at the airport.”
“It could be a tough gig,” I suggested.
“Well,” he said, “if I can play Berlin, as I did a couple of weeks ago, and last year I did Vienna – why not Israel this year and New York next year?”
At this point, Sandra Smith arrived at the pub. As she walked in, her tights fell down.
And then we went to Torture Garden.
Just as I found St Peter’s in the Vatican to be a decidedly non-spiritual and non-religious place, Torture Garden was decidedly non-erotic and the punters seemed to have changed in the last twenty years.
In the blog I posted about that visit, | wrote:
There was a look in the more outrageously dressed (or un-dressed) people’s eyes at Torture Garden which made me think a strong British sense of irony and an active sense of the ridiculous don’t gel (if that’s the word) with wearing outlandish sado-masochistic costumes for sexual thrills.
My memory of twenty years ago was that there were a few decidedly odd people wandering around. Sexual thrills were in the air. Some had come over from Amsterdam for the night.
This time, people seemed more relaxed wandering around semi-naked or in bizarre get-ups and there were more of them – 2,000 people in The Coronet, a fairly small former cinema.
But, just as people say that modern Glastonbury Festival-goers are not like they used to be in the 1970s – today they are sometimes like tourists visiting a theme park far-removed from their comfortable suburban lives – so Torture Garden seemed a bit like a theme park where participants dressed-up for the occasion. There was no sexual tension in the air.
Until towards the end of the evening.
Sandra Smith and I were trapped in the venue until 5.00am by a lack of trains home.
So we were sitting at one of a group of cafe tables by the bar behind the large dance floor, shouting at each other. You had to shout because of the loud, thumping, repetitive music.
Sitting at one of the adjoining round cafe tables was a couple – a young man and his topless girlfriend. And, at another table, a similar duo. All the other tables had similar couples and groups in various states of undress.
Sandra and I, by this point, were rather disappointed by the normality of it all.
Alright, there was a lot of naked flesh, leather thongs, PVC, latex and occasional studded choker collars with dog leads on display. But everyone was terribly polite, well-behaved and very very British and I observed to Sandra that any other bar in Elephant & Castle – or anywhere else in London, really – filled with people in their 20s knocking back large amounts of drink for hours on end, would have been less politely civilised. Our little cafe area was a bit like sitting in a Costa Cafe emporium with actors resting and chatting between takes in a Mad Max movie.
The girl in one of the couples at one of the tables next to us decided to make a thing of showing off her very nice breasts and adjusting her leather or plastic costume. This resulted in an invitation for her and her man to join the couple at the other adjoining table. and, over the course of the next five minutes or so, five or seven other young topless girls meandered over. I think the attraction was her breasts. There was much silent female amiability with the girls canoodling, snogging, kissing/feeling each others breasts and suchlike. All in a strangely innocent, only semi-passionate way.
Somewhere along the way a taller, thin girl was involved and another man sat down at the next table and, as she bent over, aiming her naked buttocks in our general direction, he started to insert his finger into her in what I suppose one might call an active penile impression.
This then continued when she stretched over to put her hands on the seat of a nearby plastic chair and he replaced his finger with a more appropriate length of his body and started making what Shakespeare called ‘the beast with two backs’.
The strange thing was that this uniformly rhythmic movement was an emotionless, almost mechanical, happening. No passion, not real excitement, no eroticism – just a meeting of meat in what William Burroughs called the soft machine.
It was one person who had an emotionless face doing something to (not really with) another person who had an emotionless face. Watching it was like having an out-of-body experience although, obviously, it would be incorrect to use that description for the two participants.
This ended without really ending. It just stopped. It had got nowhere and never was going to get anywhere. Then there was some other unemotional happenings with soft machines, some erect penises being played with by the two men (separately) and, at some point, a wet wipe was taken out and used for no apparent reason. It seemed more for show that for any practical necessity.
I have a feeling the object was to shock two old and presumed dull people sitting at the other table (us). But really, at this sort of event, this was a forlorn hope,
I suppose this was the climax of the night but – ironically – it involved no climax by anyone.
Sandra Smith’s opinion today was: “It seemed a lot tamer than I expected. One thing that did amuse me in that little scenario at the end was the girl in the midst of it all. While one man was fucking her at one end, she was giving the man at the other end a blow job but covered her head with a coat. With everything else going on, she covered her head with a coat! That amused me.”
Personally, I too am mystified why a coat was necessary for this but not the other parts of what I can only call the act.
Which it did seem to be.
For Sandra Smith’s blog about the evening, click HERE.
About a week after posting this blog and after it was mentioned on the Chortle comedy website, Chortle editor Steve Bennett got this comment from Israel:
I wanted to clarify a mistake in a report about Nazi in Tel-Aviv. It was said that The Producers will be shown in Israel for the first time. Well… The Producers is a huge cult movie over here and always have been. You’d be surprised how much the Holocaust in Israel is a common topic for comedy. Since it’s the land of the Jews no one can accuse us at being anti-semitic so we can take it one or few steps ahead.
Steve Bennett commented:
If you can’t trust the word of a man pretending to be Hitler, who can you trust?
There is a video of Torture Garden’s 2015 Valentine’s Night Ball on Vimeo.