About The Show
Drag queen and party princess Topsie Redfern is getting back to her roots. Her musical roots, her grey roots, and her family roots; especially her Great Grandmother Winifred, who ran away from her own wealthy roots with an Irish Traveller, eventually becoming renowned fairground fortune teller Madam Olga.
Topsie teams up with her own alter ego, Nathan Kiley, to explore their shared roots, and their shared route from West End star to drag artist, to both, to... who knows what next…? Topsie invites you to join her on a journey of queer self-acceptance, to stare into her Crystal Balls and muse on what has been, and wonder at what is to come.
Not your conventional drag cabaret, the show covers themes including Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) rights, Section 28, and the downfall and re-elevation of Enigma codebreaker and father of Artificial Intelligence Alan Turing - but rest assured, there’s also plenty of filthy jokes, stunning vocals, and glitter!
Once upon a time there was a house, in the house there was an attic,
in the attic there was a box, and in the box there was a crystal ball.
In the house there lived a woman who longed for a child, but she couldn’t conceive.
She wished and wished on the crystal ball: she had a crystal ball in the attic because her grandmother was a witch.
She told the crystal ball that, if she was given a child, she didn’t mind if it was a boy or a girl, as long as it was shiny.
Just when all hope seemed lost, she gave birth to a shiny little girly boy.
She named him after a Hebrew prophet whose name meant gift: Nathan.
When the histories of your communities are missing from the history books, how do you keep those memories alive? And how do the weight of those memories affect who we are today?
As a queer kid growing up in the North of England in the 80s, Nathan actually did have a crystal ball in his attic, and he did stare into it a lot. Before he had learned enough about the world to allow him to embark on a journey of queer self-acceptance, Nathan didn’t have a clue in hell what to do with his gift of shininess. Because where he was from, being shiny could get you into trouble.
And so Nathan would hide in the attic, drape himself in the old stage costumes of his mother, and those of his fortune-teller great-grandmother, and stare into that crystal ball wondering why he was so different and what would become of his life.
It didn’t take a prophet to guess that Nathan would grow up to be a drag queen: Miss Topsie Redfern. Topsie is a regular and popular fixture in some of the UK’s most celebrated cabaret venues, with regular international appearances.
She is also a popular host of Drag Queen Storytime Sessions, reading to families and young people in schools and libraries throughout the UK.
Years later, as a young actor, making his West End debut as Mary Sunshine in Chicago, Nathan’s mother gave him a first night gift: the crystal ball he had been obsessed with as a kid. In his dressing room, he started to research its owner; his great-grandmother Winifred Kiely, born in 1905 to a respectable middle-class family in Bristol. Rejected by her parents after falling pregnant aged 14 to an Irish traveller more than double her age, she was forced to start her life afresh. She birthed 11 living children in a caravan 8ft wide and 12ft long, while working the fairs as the hugely renowned Madame Olga. In the 1930s and 40s, Olga regularly told the fortunes of Alan Turing, Lady Astor and members of the War Cabinet. And in the year that Turing -marginalised and vilified for his homosexuality in his lifetime - is set to appear on the £50 note, this connection through the ages becomes especially poignant.
Crystal Balls is the story of Nathan’s discovery of his Irish Traveller heritage, through the lens of the memories of his Great Grandmother’s extraordinary life. It uses the traditions of Irish storytelling and drag cabaret to explore the story of Winifred Kiely, and how this story intersects with the hidden histories of marginalised communities in their written and the unwritten forms: exploring the codes of silenced peoples (predominantly queer history and Traveller history) - and how those codes, from dress
codes like hanky codes and garlanding, to linguistic ones like Shelta and Polari, create safety – but also build barriers.
Nathan’s work over the past few years with Drag Queen Storytime - dragqueenstorytime.com - has centred around breaking down barriers and misconceptions around feminine queer men, but this has faced several backlashes, some of them involving violent threats. Part of the creative team’s drive for making this show comes from exploring how we can take pride in the parts of ourselves - and our cultural histories – that previous generations would have hidden, and to become role models, especially to young people, safely and proudly.
PERFORMER / CO-WRITER - NATHAN KILEY
Nathan made his West End debut in 2009 playing Mary Sunshine in hit musical Chicago alongside Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child and talk-show legend Jerry Springer. Most recently Nathan was rehearsing Orpheus, a house music opera being staged at London’s Young Vic Theatre, which we hope will premiere post lockdown. His extensive theatre career includes the title role in
Tony Blair: The Musical (Edinburgh Festival, UK tour), and many other musicals and pantomimes.
After working with playwright and director Sarah Chew last year, playing the role of Mark in her musical fable Lipstick: Fairytale Of Iran, Nathan is currently collaborating Sarah Chew on two new projects: Crystal Balls, and a drag cabaret show for children commissioned by Stratford Story Centre. Also collaborating is actor and Drag King LJ Parkinson / LoUis CYfer. Nathan trained at Guildford School of Acting.
Nathan’s Cabaret alter-ego Topsie Redfern is a regular and popular fixture in some of the UK’s most celebrated cabaret venues, with regular international appearances. Topsie is a popular host of Drag Queen Storytime Sessions, reading to families and young people in schools and libraries throughout the UK; Topsie also regularly performs at social lunch schemes aimed at reducing
isolation for the elderly and vulnerable in London, including Jackson’s Lane Social Lunches, Broadway Brunches Harringay, East London Cares & Wandsworth LGBT Forum Coffee Morning. For the past decade, Nathan has been a workshop leader and director for Theatre Tribe Workshops, staging musicals with groups of 6-16 year olds. Topsie is an extremely proud Ambassador of UK
charity Cancer Is A Drag, and regularly works with HIV Charity The Food Chain.
CO-WRITER & DIRECTOR - SARAH CHEW
Sarah Chews’ professional experience has taken her to 4 continents, where she has directed over 70 productions and written 7 produced plays. These include: Lipstick: A Fairy Tale of Iran, (4 week run at Omnibus Theatre, R&D at Roundhouse, Royal Vauxhall Tavern and Camden People’s Theatre) 2019 Part play, part drag show, inspired by on my experience of witnessing the failed Green Uprising in Tehran in 2010. Bloodlines (based on residency at Barnardos/National FGM Prevention Centre, produced by Olive Branch Theatre) 2017 Interactive play about Female Genital Mutilation in the UK, now used as part of the UK FGM training toolkit. Eat Me, IMAGES Festival, Copenhagen, and RaMoMA Gallery, Nairobi 2011 Large scale interactive performance (cast of 70 in Nairobi, cast of 12 in Copenhagen) drawn from interviews with sex workers in Nairobi and Copenhagen. Sarah also writes and direct comedy, and has a regular collaboration with headline comedian Desiree Burch: director and/or co-writer credits include: Desiree’s Coming Early (EdFest, Soho Theatre, UK tour, Joe’s Pub NYC, US tour), Desiree Burch Left The Group (Comedy Central TV special), Unf*ckable (EdFest, Soho, UK tour Joes’s Pub NYC), This is Evolution (EdFest, Soho, BBC TV special - Funny Women award), Tar Baby (EdFest, Vaults Festival - Fringe First, Amnesty Award, and Vaults Award) and 52 Man Pickup (EdFest, Museum of Comedy, various NYC venues) Sarah is Artistic Director of Critical Mass Theatre, dedicated to producing theatre that
traverses cultural fault-lines. UK projects as director inc Lipstick: a Fairy Tale of Iran (see above); Pramface by Lizzie Hopley (2 UK tours; King’s Head Theatre; EdFest; 7 awards); Missing Persons by Colin Teevan starring Greg Hicks (Trafalgar Studios; EdFest, 2 awards); Frank and Dolly by Lizzie Hopley starring Dillie Keane (EdFest, Stage Award) International projects inc collaborations with Ho Chi Minh City Municipal Opera, National Theatre of Kenya, National Theatre of Uganda, Dramatic Arts Council of the Republic
of Iran, Habimah Theatre, Art School Ramallah, Danish Centre for Culture and Development, and the British Council.
Creative Team & Thanks
Performed by Topsie Redfern and Nathan Kiley
Written by Sarah Chew and Nathan Kiley
Directed by Sarah Chew
Musical Director Connor Fogel
Dramaturg Aaron Lamont
Scientific advisor LH Trevail
With thanks to Tyler Hatwell at LGBT Traveller Pride, Bakehouse Factory and Barbican Theatre Plymouth
Supported by Arts Council England.
Friday 17 September 7:30pm
Saturday 18 September 7:30pm
Nathan (Topsie) and Sarah Chew (Crystal Balls Director & Co-Writer) will be running a Pay What You Decide 'Intro To The Art Of Drag Performance' workshop at Barbican Theatre on Thursday 16 September (ages 15+) They'll be giving advice, tips of the trade and performance techniques to established, emerging or curious drag queens, kings and everyone in between. You'll also have the chance to show off your own 'act' (however advanced it is)
It is held in person at Barbican Theatre, where strict health and safety for social distancing is in place. There is opportunity to share your act, ask questions and get involved as much as you like but this is not mandatory. Please complete your details below if you'd like to attend.
Barbican Theatre is a safe space - safe to be who you are, regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, age, gender, identity, or sexual orientation.
Tickets are available exclusively through this website and are Pay What You Decide, which means you get to decide how much you pay!
Tickets are available to book in advance as usual, and you can pay what you decide when you book or you can wait to pay until after you have seen the show.
We want to encourage more people to come and see shows, more often.
We want you to feel you can take a risk, try watching something new and get a chance to see new types of shows, and encounter stories you’ve not heard before. This might be your first opportunity to step inside a theatre- we look forward to seeing you here. Pay What You Decide not only allows you to pay what you can afford, rather than a fixed ticket price, but also removes the risk of buying a ticket for a show in advance without knowing whether you are going to enjoy it or not.
You can decide what you would like to pay now by adding a donation to your booking, or you can pay after you have seen the show. Looking around at other events going on in the city, we estimate that 1 ticket to similar events would cost £10. There is no ‘right’ answer, we are not attempting to lead you to a specific figure. You can pay £0 for your ticket.
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“A 5-star night like no other – don’t miss it… a true celebrity with a deep sense of who he is and where he’s come from”
G Scene Magazine
“Topsie Redfern’s Crystal Balls is not like any other cabaret show… a vulnerable, autobiographical journey through queer history”
A Younger Theatre