Fame has always conveyed the illusion of intimacy, letting us believe that our heroes are people we know. In the age of social media, the increased insight into the backstage life of celebrities only adds to the feeling that there is no distinction between the public celebrity and the private individual. We have 24/7 stars who, in our minds at least, never take a day off.
That this is not true is reflected in all the people who talk about the disappointment of finally meeting their heroes and being thoroughly let down by them. With Make-up, I wanted to move beyond the stage persona and introduce audiences to the person behind the performer.
As the play opens, Lady Christina returns for a last encore. She isn’t just a character that Christopher Laneghan has created, she’s his alter ego, born out of everything he’s gone through. But it’s only in the dressing room that all the pieces can fall into place.
To discover Christina, I had to take Chris Laneghan back not just to the moment he was born, but the moment he was conceived, and then go back even further, to understand who his mother was, who his father was, how they were with each other and how they were with him.
The first decisions I made, that Chris was born in Birmingham in 1975, meant that he was born into a world where homosexuals were seen as legitimate targets for jokes by music hall comedians on primetime TV. That, and the presentation of gay characters in sitcoms, made it so much harder for people to admit their sexuality to themselves let alone to their parents.
Being born in 1975 also meant that Chris was 13 when Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which stated that; 'A local authority shall not (a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality; (b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship', came into force, and that he was living in London in 1999, when a nail bomb went off at the Admiral Duncan Pub in Old Compton Street.
I thought about how these would influence the decisions Chris made, as well as how his life would have been shaped by the general backdrop of the 80s and 90s. The only things I knew for sure was that somewhere along the way Lady Christina would come into being, but Christina would have her own history. She is a character in her own right, with her own personality. She is shaped by Chris’s childhood and early years as much as he is, but they have different ways of dealing with it.
And now, Lady Christina has been with Chris for more than two decades. The world has changed, audiences act as if they own a character and there is a sense that drag as a whole may have left its original performers and audiences behind as it turned into a commodity for mainstream markets.
All of this, and more, form the person we see taking their encore at the start of the show. We just don’t know about it until we meet them backstage.