Interview: Helen White

“Len Blanco is the drag king of your dreams.  Woke.  Feminist. The Voice of his generation.” The brainchild of Helen White, Len Blanco is now heading to the Edinburgh Fringe from 5th-10th Aug with an all new musical comedy cabaret, directed by Freyja Winterson and produced by Lauren Steele.  We caught up with Helen to find out more about the legend, Len Blanco.

Interview © Amie Taylor

AT: You started off as a theatre-maker and then moved in to becoming a drag artist. What inspired that move and what appeals to you about the art form?

HW: I always played male characters and when I did improv at uni I often played men in my mind, until my fellow improvisors would label me as female saying something like ‘Come on Madam, come and take a seat’, and I suppose that’s to do with my general gender identity; performance has always given allowed me to be male or a man. Then in theatre, I was making work with Magic Maverick Theatre Company, we were making queer work for children, so I played a gender-fluid pirate-magpie. And I also worked with Spun-Glass Theatre and made a show about gender, so I was channeling my gender-queerness a lot.  It was here I worked with a performer called Luce Baker, Luce has a drag king alter ego called Shesus, and is a stunning drag king, very attractive; whacks on a beard, a crown of thorns and a robe and there you go – it’s white Jesus. So I saw Luce doing that and thought: A: This is the most wildly exciting thing I’ve seen in years and  B. A viable option. For me. And I heard about Man-Up the Drag King competition, so I entered and that was where it started. 

AT: And tell us a little bit about your show Len Blanco: Firing Blancs…

HW: So Len used to be in the Welsh, boyband, pop-sensation ‘M4’ and had a stadium tour in 1998 and did all of the archetypal 90s boyband stuff. And then they broke up, it was very sad and so in the show it’s 20 years on and Len is rebranding: he’s the new man with a meaningful solo career and he’s moved on from all of that fake inauthentic stuff and he’s connected with himself, he does yoga and is in to that kind of stuff. He’s got a pretentious moustache and silly little glasses and he thinks that he’s moved on.  Spoiler alert: he hasn’t moved on! So it’s about his relationship with gender and how he expresses that, about his relationship with his audiences, with fame and with the media attention. Also about how cool it is to be woke and feminist and how he’s taking on the idea of being woke and feminist, without any real substance, because he knows it’s cool. 

AT: And what inspired that plot for the show?

HW: I think doing various cabaret slots over the past year, I’ve landed on this. It’s delicious to perform being such a dick and he’s that specific kind of dick that everyone knows; he’s the fake woke guy – the fake feminist guy. Everyone knows that guy. 

AT: And what cajoled you in to taking the step to making a full show and taking it to Edinburgh?

HW: I knew that there was a full show in Len and it seemed like the logical next step.  I’ve been a collaborative theatre maker and I needed to make my own solo show and that scares me, because I love to bounce ideas around. And I’ve found people to bounce ideas off. I’ve bounced ideas off Freyja, the director and Liberty, my girlfriend and various friends. 

AT: Why is this show relevant for 2018?

HW: It’s the transition from feminism being a dirty word to feminism being a word that confers upon you so many cool points.  And you have tops and necklaces that say ‘I’m a feminist’. And you get ‘cool points’ to be to be politically, socially progressive, or rather to be seen to be – without having to do all of the deep work of excavating your personal misogyny, racism, homophobia – whatever it is. People just know it’s cool to be this, so they brand themselves as such. It’s all mouth and no trousers. 

AT: What’s the takeaway for the audience from this show?

HW: I would love it and do love it when people are confused and aroused. When they’re like ‘Oh god – you’re a petite lady with delicate features, that’s a man. Who are you? And who am I?’ I quite enjoy that aspect of drag.  It’s comedy, so they’ll take away what they take away.  I would like to entertain people, but if I could give them any feelings that stick with them and make them think ‘Oh God, that makes me feel uncomfortable,’ or ‘That reminds me of something I do, or say’ or ‘That reminds me of someone I know’, then that would be great. 

Len Blanco: Firing Blancs is part of the Free Fringe and is showing from the 5th – 10th August at Revolution (224) at 9.40pm.  Don’t miss it! More info.

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