Ceri Dupree: 21 ladies' night, Nottingham Arts Theatre
T HINK of all the times you've heard the Duchess of Cornwall speak. Anything? Anything at all? That's the conundrum Ceri Dupree found himself in when he wanted to add Camilla to his new female impersonation show. It is, shall we say, tough to impersonate somebody when you have no idea what that person sounds like.
Ceri asked around. Nobody he knew had heard her speak either.
He checked YouTube. One clip of her laughing, none of her speaking.
But of course, there's a flip side to that. Nobody in the audience will know what Camilla sounds like either.
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"I thought 'well, she's bound to be very horsey. I'll just do her like that'," Ceri says.
So, at one point in his night of 21 women, he strides out announcing himself in plummy tones: "Yes, Camilla here, your future Queen".
The audience reaction, he says, sometimes veers almost towards the panto.
But Ceri means no malice. The show also features Ceri's impersonation of Camilla's mother-in-law – but again, the send-up is done with respect.
"I think the Queen has done her job and done it well," Ceri says.
"I celebrate these larger-than-life women," he says.
Over the years he's seen stage shows that are just cheap drag acts – misogynistic and hateful.
"I think, 'you're just dressed up in a dress and making fun of women'," he says.
"All the women I do, I have the greatest respect for," he says.
Well, Katie Price may be an exception. But other than that, he's doing loving, if comedic, homages. Occasionally he even drops the comedy – Edith Piaf is simply done in tribute. But otherwise, whether it's Shirley Bassey, Cher or Björk, he loves them all. And there's always room for more.
"You're always looking for new women to do, shall we say," he says. "The old Hollywood star system is gone and there's not so much variety and light entertainment. There's all these reality ... well, they use the word 'stars'. I wouldn't."
If it wasn't for the likes of Lady Gaga, he doesn't know what he'd do for new stars (he's now hoping kooky chanteuse Paloma Faith's career breaks open – she'd be perfect but he needs her to get a bit bigger before he can drop her into a show).
He says his shows contain three types of impressions. You've got the ones everybody knows such as Cher or Dolly Parton. You've got the older ones – Marlene Dietrich, Mae West. And you've got the ones that only the youngsters will definitely have heard of.
But Ceri finds that if you put on a good show, audience familiarity with the source material doesn't matter. His 80-year-old father doesn't know Björk.
"And yet he sits there and laughs, because Björk is funny, and the song is funny," Ceri says.
And he recalls doing a show for several hundred university students.
"I walked on stage and said, listen guys, half the women in this show are dead."
He explained about some of the great actresses of yesteryear he'd be sending up – and ended up finishing to a standing ovation.
"It's the old thing where it's funny, or it isn't."
Over the years on the female impersonation and panto circuits – he's a sought-after dame who played the Theatre Royal a couple of years ago – he's built up a loyal fanbase. But tempting in new fans can be hard. "They think 'oh yeah, I'm not paying £12 to see some bloke in a dress'," he says.
"You can only hope they come in, and once they come in they say 'oh my God', and you hope they come again."