The Ladyboys link with Congleton
PUBLISHED: 17:44 29 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:07 20 February 2013
Phillip and Carol Gandey are a huge name in the world of circus and cabaret theatre. We went to their HQ in Congleton to find out more about their intriguing world
It may sound unlikely, but did you know the colourful cabaret show, The Lady Boys of Bangkok, originated in Cheshire? Its true. The show, based on a small Lady Boys cabaret act Phillip had been persuaded to watch while on a stopover in Bangkok, was developed at the Gandeys creative base, The Arts Exchange in Congleton. Phillip and his wife Carol, took the elaborate show to Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1998 and were amazed by the response. They havent looked back since and the show, back in Manchester in July, has gone on to become one of the top five at the Edinburgh Festival each year.
It seems the Gandeys, Phillip in particular, have always been risk takers, leading the way for others to follow. As Europes youngest circus director at the age of 17, inheriting the small, family-run circus business from his father, Phillip was quite unlike most of his contemporaries.
At the time, circus was more a way of life than a business, he says. Very few circuses had business plans and I was in the minority of circus people who had got an education.
I was a seasoned knife thrower by the age of 11, but the only person who would stand at the knife board for me was my mum
My father was from a theatre background, my grandparents had worked in a small touring theatre in the 1940s. They were originally from Brighton, but touring in an old converted bus and they broke down on the A50 in Congleton and weve been here ever since. My mum was a farmers daughter and although she came into the theatre when she met my father, she made me go to school wherever we were.
I was a seasoned knife thrower by the age of 11, although the only person who would stand at the knife board for me was my mum. That changed when I met Carol at 20 and she stepped into place at the board for me.
We stopped using animals in our circus about 20 years ago, says Phillip. In the late 1980s the animal rights movement was growing in the UK and thats when I made the decision.
As flag-bearers for non animal circus, the Gandeys worked hard promoting other more theatrical circus shows, including the Chinese State Circus.
The show they are most famous for these days, however, is The Lady Boys of Bangkok.
Its the show that receives the best box office figures and we receive the most positive response from, says Phillip, who has also appeared as a judge on Sky Ones Cirque de Celebrite.
The response took us by surprise. The first year we took it to the Edinburgh Festival really we were testing the water, we didnt know how audiences would receive it.
Originally some people thought it was going to be a sex show. Some people might have been disappointed it wasnt, but most loved it.
The following year we went back with a different show and everybody was asking about the one we brought the year before, the Lady Boys.
Now its been the largest selling show for the last five years at the Festival as well as touring the country between April and December. We have our own 400 seat venue, which was built specially for the show and which extends to a capacity of 700 in Edinburgh.
It features 16 performers, four work as male dancers the others are Lady Boys, they live as females 24/7.
I would describe the show as having the opulence of the Moulin Rouge, the edginess of Sally Bowles in Cabaret, the energy and power of MTV and the comedy of the Carry On films.
The Lady Boys are introducing a whole new generation to cabaret. We had a lot of great cabaret venues in the North West, but after cabaret was seen as pass a whole generation grew up without it.
Now theatre seems to be taking itself less seriously again. Its a 12-month process to put on and we make sure we refresh it each year to keep it as up-to-date as possible as far as music, comedy and themes are concerned, Ive even got a few ideas for next years show already, laughs Phillip.
The show comes to Manchester again for four weeks in July, says Carol. Keeping it fresh is always in the forefront of our minds. Its incredibly popular, some people come five, 10, 15 times. Sometimes people walk out of one showing and book tickets for the one later that night.
The Gandeys are still responsible for bringing the Chinese State Circus on tour each year and direct a number of other spectaculars including the recent, Los Vivancos, seven flamenco dancing brothers from Spain, a show that wowed audiences at The Lowry in March. The Gandeys are also the inspiration behind Circus Starr, a show taken into smaller communities that otherwise may not get circus and it raises money for local charities.
Whatever the show, I like to think the performers are generous and perform with the audience in mind, says Carol. We dont employ people who are half-hearted about what they do. Ultimately its all about the audience, we get as much pleasure from 15 people enjoying the show as we do 500.