Brit filmmaker Lee Cooper’s debut feature documentary is an unbridled ode to one of Britain’s lesser-known camp legends: (that’s unless you are an English gay man of a certain age). David Raven aka Maisie Trollette is the oldest drag queen still performing in the UK …..(but don’t call her that she much prefers drag artiste). He was a mere 84 years old when they first started filming (he is now 88) and lives and works in Brighton (often talked up as London by the sea).
Cooper centers his film around a visit from the US of Walter Cole aka Darcelle XV who at 89 holds the Guinness Book of Record for the world’s oldest performing drag queen. The occasion is to celebrate Maisie’s 85th birthday but it actually serves to beautifully show off her essence of an old-fashioned comic pantomime dame. Cole on the other hand is like a stately ex-Pageant Queen who seems to take everything in life a tad too seriously.
One of the best sequences in the film is when Cooper’s cameras focus on the two elderly performers getting dressed for a joint stage appearance. Whereas Raven claims he just throws his makeup in the air and stands underneath when it lands whereas Cole painstakingly paints his face with such attention to minute details.
Back in the 1960’s when ‘Maisie’ was born there was a second Trollete called Jimmy and when they started performing they actually sang live which was unheard of. They were the star turn at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern Pub which was, and still is, London’s most eminent gay venue. Sadly there is too little archival footage of those days and even later when Jimmy left to go solo, and Maisie worked with Phill Starr, Lee Paris and other drag queens on the circuit at the time.
It was still illegal to be gay when Raven first started out, and the whole scene was underground out of necessity. Part of the consequences of that still lingers as Raven still avoids telling people outside of the community that he is gay, even to this day.
Cooper films him now as he is helped to get to perform but his physical fragility has not dented his infectious humor or his ability to remember all the words of his songs … .. or any of the corny one-liners he peppers his act.
Raven’s eyes start to fill when he talks about the love of his life banker Don Coull who passed a few years. It certainly defies the myth that no one can fall in love with a drag queen …… sorry, artist.
Gay historians usually only focus on the serious side of our struggle for equal rights and how our community was formed. However, Maisie Trollette and any of her fellow drag artists from way back deserve to be acknowledged for playing their part. I relied on The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, and other bars like that, to be a safe haven in an often hostile world. There was no one better than Maisie Trollette bawling at the packed crowd to make you feel you really home.
Maisie’s old-fashioned down-to-earth approach to drag may seem so very dated now, but if it was her and her sparkly tawdry frocks that paved the way for so many new generations of drag queens. How many of them will still be performing when they are 85? And would we really want to see them?
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Labels: 2021, Brighton, documentary, drag, Maisie Trollette