Freaks, robots and drag queens: The Alternative Miss World comes to Shakespeare's Globe

Renowned eccentric Andrew Logan brings his brilliantly bizarre, utterly mesmerising event to the most unlikely of settings

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The Independent Culture

Shakespeare was no stranger to cross-dressing: Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Viola in Twelfth Night, Rosalind in As You Like It.

Yet while the Bard dealt mainly with women disguised as men, the reincarnated Globe theatre this Saturday will see far greater variety than sixteenth-century gender deception.

The Alternative Miss World is just that: a whatever-you-make-of-it slant on the bog-standard Miss World pageant. The event really does make Miss World look plain shoddy. While the latter perpetuates gender stereotypes and an out-dated notion of beauty, the Alternative Miss World is open to all; its mantra is the celebration of uniqueness.

English artist and sculptor Andrew Logan started the event 42 years ago, the idea being the amalgamation of two simple things: inspiration from the Crufts’ dog show and a love of throwing parties.

Logan, a master at being ahead of the curve by ignoring societal norms and the art establishment, held the first event at his studio in Hackney in 1972. David Hockney was one of the judges. The following year, Angie Bowie was on the panel, while her beau, David, couldn't make it into the studio due to the contest's growing notoriety.

From then on, the party became a spectacle. Logan says the night is not about beauty but transformation. He commented in The British Guide To Showing Off, a 2011 film about the Alternative Miss World, that one year a contestant came as a box of After Eights: "So you can transform yourself into anything."

Since the early seventies, an acclaimed mix of artists and celebrities have either attempted to transform themselves or participated in the hosting or judging duties. The late film director and artist Derek Jarman won the contest in 1975 as Miss Crepe Suzette. Leigh Bowery and Grayson Perry have all been contestants, while Celia Birtwell and Brian Eno have judged. John Waters' Muse, Divine, was a standout co-host in 1978, when The Alternative Miss World took place in a circus tent in Clapham Common.

Perry returns to the event he first experienced in the 1980s as co-host this year alongside Logan, who will be both host and hostess, wearing an outfit split down the middle, the left representing the female, the right the male.

It is a mode of dress Shakespeare would have approved of: women were not allowed to act in public theatres in England until 1660, so boys would play the female parts and men would play the older women. Thus, a man playing Portia in The Merchant of Venice would have to not only perform as a woman, but when it came to Portia's cross-dressing scenes, would essentially be a man pretending to be a woman pretending to be a man. Such fluidity and such performance is something Logan welcomes.

Saturday's event will see Logan transform The Globe from a traditional English oak construction to a Neon-numbered-themed party for a smorgsabord of eccentrics. In such an environment anything can happen and anyone can win. In 1998, a Russian woman in her seventies wore the crown. In 1985, the winner was Miss Rosa Bosom, a robot created by Bruce Lacey.

It still remains the only time a beauty contest has ever been won by a robot, a perfect representation of Logan's embrace of anyone and anything.

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The Bard would evidently be bemused by a robot waltzing on his stage. Yet while Logan's universe may appear far removed from the environs of Shakespeare's south bank, there is more similarity than meets the eye. Shakespeare was no fan of convention on the stage - just take the mummified and mumbling Lavinia in Titus Andronicus. And if the Bard utilised his imagination to create shock and awe - as well as beauty - so does Logan.

Thus, the meeting of Logan and Shakespeare is perhaps an apt yet unexpected meeting of worlds; "a pair of star-cross’d lovers..."

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