Better known to the patrons of the George as Lady Veda Beaux Reves, Enda McGrattan is now also the star of Ireland’s very first LGBT play for children, Aunty Ben. The City caught up with McGrattan to discuss the play and Ireland’s changing attitudes to gender politics.
Tell us a little bit more about Aunty Ben, it seems like a really interesting story.
“It’s really fun, the idea is that due to a break up of a marriage I, as Ben, end up helping [my] sister raise her child Tracy, who is around nine-years-old. She really enjoys Ben and all of his drag and all of his ways until she changes school and realises that because of Ben she becomes the subject of controversy and bullying from the kids in her class.”
A lot of people would know you from your performances as Veda in the George, how much of Veda is in Ben?
“Ben is very Veda, I think that’s the reason that I was approached. I’m not an actor or a theatre actor or anything so Ben is about as Veda as it comes, but at the same time Veda is very Ben. I have nieces and nephews and they’ve come to see me perform so it actually reflects my life pretty accurately. [And] although I’m far too old to be the subject of any kind of bullying by school kids at this stage in my life. I definitely can relate to it from when I was younger.”
Seeing as it’s a play for kids, has it been performed in schools?
“We’ve done a couple of shows in Educate Together schools. It hasn’t happened yet that we’ve done shows in Catholic schools but we have been to St Pat’s teacher training college twice … and we performed it for the students there who’ve loved it just as a kind of demonstration of how these issues can be dealt with in a school setting.”
Has there been any backlash to the play?
“There has been no backlash of late. Last year there was a couple of things online but lately I think those people are just cowering in the corner somewhere now. I don’t expect to be hearing from them. I think that essentially the mood of the country has really changed throughout the referendum and I feel like we’re in that strange position where we’ve experienced both. The atmosphere and support for the show is definitely clearer and more forthright than before. I think people are less afraid to say ‘yeah, that’s a great idea, let’s bring a drag queen into the school’. We’re definitely getting more interest from schools and youth groups”
Since Jonathan Rachel Clynch of RTE came out as gender fluid, has there been more of a conversation about gender issues in Ireland?
“It’s been a huge year really. Part of it is to do, I think, with the very public transition of Caitlyn Jenner. And also here, especially here, with the referendum and everything that came with it. It definitely feels like there’s something going on with drag queens at the moment. We’re in the zeitgeist, there’s something about gender going on, gender politics and that we’re all sort of freedom fighters for people that want to exist beyond gender.”
Aunty Ben is in Axis Ballymun 17/18 November.