Absolutely not the full monty

Drag queens, not male strippers, do the best hen night, says Helen Rumbelow
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Madam Jo Jo's, a transvestite revue club in the heart of London's Soho, is everything a wedding is not: dark, decadent and focused on people who look good in enormous dresses. No wonder it has become such a popular place for hen nights, the revellers matching the club's camp clientele for outrageous behaviour and obsession with sex. Hen nights here have increased to about seven a week, "I'd say within the past year," says club spokeswoman Eugenie Tham.

"Which one of us lucky girls is getting married in the morning?" The drag queens emerge from the wings for the first midnight show in sequinned gowns, long muscular legs drawing to a point in jewelled stilettoes. "Wow - so pretty!" sighed my betrothed friend, the dazzle reflecting in her eyes, "I want to be her."

I watched the reactions of the women in the audience: a group of hens confronted by their decoys. Of course, they were, like me, agog at the glamour. "Girl power," whispered one friend, as one of the transvestites creased her dress on an oiled-up hunk in a tiny loin-cloth.

But as every little girl knows, envy always follows the admiration of anyone wearing a prettier frock. Our attempts at glamming up that night now looked pathetically amiss. After all, we were career women, with sensible hair and bitten fingernails. Bedraggled boas were beginning to be shed and make-up was running down sweaty cheeks.

Just as the second show was about to begin, one member of our party emerged from a side door to the stage, seeming a little shaken and carrying what appeared to be a dead ostrich under her arm. "It was awful," she said, "I was lost in the dressing rooms - I couldn't get out - all those mirrors!" Just as she held up the giant plumed tutu for inspection, the first performer came on stage, spotted her missing costume and fixed our friend with a deadly grin. Moments later, the singer reached her long talons over the adoring audience to pluck up the tutu, never missing a beat of her song.

Hen nights and drag queens have more in common than either might acknowledge: both are highly contrived celebrations of femininity powered by smutty jokes. While our behaviour became more and more laddish in order to send our friend off into a life of heterosexual convention, the transvestites simpered ever more girlishly. Somewhere in between there was a sisterly bond.

Drag queens are the custodians of the collective female past. With their nostalgic outfits and overblown glamour, they embody a form of womanhood that is out of date and out of favour. As such, their appearance is as much a warning to women as a rebuke. Don't underestimate the power of traditional femininity, they seem to say, but don't take it too seriously either. Good advice for anyone on the eve of their wedding.

Madam Jo Jo's, 8 Brewer Street, London W1, 0171-734 2473.