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Q&A: Dusty Limits on Cabaret, Craic and Dinosaurs

Dusty Limits returns to Underbelly Festival at the Southbank with his show Mandrogyny - a musical journey through the life of Dusty, from dinosaur obsessed little boy to cabaret star. We asked Dusty to tell us about the show and about the life events that inspired it.

Eli Goldstone: Hi Dusty! Can you tell us about your first experiences of cabaret?

Dusty Limits: It was 1994, and I put together a ‘surrealist cabaret’ called Les Poissons de la Nuit as a fundraiser to help us pay our airfares to a student theatre festival. It was shambolic but huge fun and I subsequently – mostly because of the film Cabaret - started researching the art form and its history. When I moved to London nearly 20 years ago, I searched out cabaret nights, but there wasn’t much going on apart from a brilliant night called Pirate Jenny's. I made friends with a drag queen called Trinity (whose real name is Paul L Martin) and we decided to start our own night. And the rest is rather addled history.

Eli: Have you always performed?

Dusty: No. Inasmuch as I have ever planned anything, I had planned on going into academia. But my friend and I saw an audition notice on campus for a student production of The Rocky Horror Show, and we decided to audition for fun. And got two of the leads. She was Magenta, I was Frank N Furter. I already knew the character backwards from having been a fan of the film, and I’ll never forget the feeling of the opening night applause. And that was that. My life’s course became clear.

Eli: What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Dusty: Not a word of a lie - alphabetising cancer registry forms for temp wages for 7.5 hours a day. It was hellish.

Eli: Your show Mandrogyny is a celebration of queer identity – how do you think that growing up queer is different for today’s generation?

Dusty: I think it would be more truthful to say that ‘Mandrogyny’ is a celebration of my identity, and it just so happens I’m queer! If I compare myself to people 20 years younger, a couple of big things spring to mind. One is that HIV isn’t the nightmare for this generation that it was for mine. That’s a huge thing. The other is that this generation seem to have a more complex, fluid and protean sense of gender and sexual identity than perhaps mine had. It’s very interesting.

Photos © James Millar

Eli: You’re performing original songs and covers – who are your musical heroes?

Dusty: In no particular order, David Bowie, Jacques Brel, Joni Mitchell, Robert Smith, The B-52s, Mozart, Tom Waits, k.d. lang, Diamanda Galas, and of course Liza.

Eli: Other than London, which city do you get most excited to perform in?

Dusty: Dublin. I love gigging in Dublin. The audiences are amazing, so responsive and up for a laugh. I now always plan to take the next day off if I am performing there because I’m officially addicted to craic.

Eli: How has using alter egos helped you find and express yourself?

Dusty: It’s a long time since I thought of ‘Dusty’ as being an alter ego. An old colleague of mine once saw one of my early shows and said ‘he’s just you, but moreso’. In some ways he has enabled me to express myself more honestly than I would have done as 'myself', but these days the name is just a nickname for a person. Though having concocted his bizarre family history (for the time I wrote my own obituary in Time Out) was the source of one of the original songs I’m proudest of, ‘Reunion’.

Eli: Finally, if you could time travel and spend one evening in a different age, when would you pick and what would you do?

Dusty: I should say ‘Weimar Berlin’ but I won’t, because my 6-year-old-self would kill me. I’d go to the Cretaceous and see dinosaurs. I can't think of anything in human history that would interest me as much as dinosaurs.



Dusty Limits - Mandrogyny

Underbelly Festival, Southbank

20th September