Bourgeois & Maurice Can’t Dance at Sadler’s Wells: An Interview

Cabaret duo Bourgeois & Maurice are currently enjoying a run at the Sadler's Wells Lilian Baylis Studio. They are thoroughly fabulous... as this Q&A will reveal to those still unintiated in their inimitable ways.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Bourgeois-And-Maurice-Antonia-Parker-
Bourgeois & Maurice by Antonia Parker.

The lovely Bourgeois and Maurice are currently on a pre Christmas run at the Lilian Baylis Studio in Sadler’s Wells, performing their fabulous cabaret show Can’t Dance. It’s a brilliant space to showcase their unique musical/comedic talents but far from their usual setting – so I thought it the ideal opportunity to find out more about their sharply observant political views, amazing Julian J Smith outfits and special B&M recommendations for Christmas.
Helpful note: GB is George Bourgeois and MM is Maurice Maurice.

bourgeois & maurice by sarah alfarhan
Bourgeois & Maurice by Sarah Alfarhan.

I came to your show at Sadlers Wells last week which was somewhat different to the previous intimate performance I saw at Bistrotheque. Did it take a lot of preparation to fill that big stage? Have you met many lovely ballet types? Learnt anything? But seriously… has it forced your dancing to improve, and is the audience very different to your usual crowd?

GB: Yes audiences engage with what we do very differently in a theatre space. Somewhere like Bistrotheque allows the audience to involve themselves much more, because they are literally metres from the stage, whereas here at Sadler’s there’s a much bigger distance between us and the back row and as a result you have to find new ways to involve them. Which is why I climb through the seating and why I never pick people on the end of the row – it’s too obvious. I go for the ones who think they’re safe in the middle. There is a moment in the show when we attend a Ballet boyz rehearsal – that isn’t set up – they literally called us about 30 minutes beforehand and said ‘we’re having a class upstairs, you’re welcome to join in’. When we got there we just had to copy the other dancers and hope for the best. They were all incredibly kind to us, despite our incompetence.

MM: As Bourgeois says, it is different when people are sitting in the darkness of a theatre, they definitely feel more detached from you. So that is why he gets right in there and sits amongst them for a while. It’s polite. I tend to keep my distance though. One time I ventured in and touched someone and a mislaid party popper went off. I think it was a warning for me to Keep Back. I As for the dancing, we definitely learnt some things, and I might only be speaking for myself here, but I do think our pole dancing has improved over the course of these shows, which is nice. What with the job cuts n’ that, you never know what skills might come in useful.

bourgeois & maurice genie espinosa
Bourgeois & Maurice by Genie Espinosa.

You pulled my boyfriend out of the audience to serenade… and you clamber around amongst the audience quite a lot (well, Bourgeois does) What are you looking for when you home in on your prey? And have you ever gotten a surprising response?

GB: Sorry about that! - That’s quite alright, I think he enjoyed it! - I think we’re usually on the hunt for someone who looks like they’ll have a sense of humour and not be permanently scarred by the experience, but at the same time not someone who looks like a natural show off. We’ve already got two of those on stage. We once had a guy in the audience who stood up midway through a song and started to hurl really shit homophobic abuse at us (I mean, at least make it clever). I think he assumed we were going to be a burlesque act with our tits out, or something. Security dragged him out as he shouted threats at us, so Maurice made up a ‘Bye Bye Fuck Off’ song on the spot, which the whole audience sang to him. 

MM: Ah yes, a fond memory. He was a lovely man. He said he was going to wait for us after, but sadly we never saw him again. Love is so transient sometimes. That’s the most severe reaction we;ve had I think, although that was a saturday night at Bistrotheque, which is slightly different to the normal Sadler’s Wells crowd. People don’t tend to be so vocal in the darkness of an auditorium! Surprising actually how easily people tend to go with what you ask. I’ve tried to take this method into my everyday life more, but it’s just not as persuasive without the microphones and stage lighting.

Dee-Andrews-Bourgeois-Maurice
Illustration by Dee Andrews.

You’ve spoken about the problems that come from addressing contemporary issues in your songs… some of which then rapidly date. Which song from your past would be the most out of place now and why?

GB: Probably ‘Girls in Neon’ which was one of the first songs we wrote, way back in that heady summer of ’07, when Nu Rave was still around. It was a piss-take of that moment in music-fashion history which dated almost as quickly as the scene itself. And, in fact, we were very judgmental and wrong when we wrote ‘when the neon shades fade, will the Klaxons still sing?’ because they are, and their last album was really good. So sorry about that, Klaxons.

Bourgeois & Maurice by Kellie Black
Bourgeois & Maurice by Kellie Black.

You managed to slip in some very *now* references to the student riots when I saw you… how easy is it to keep your spiel up to date on the day? 

GB: Depends what time we wake up and how long we’ve got to read the papers! At the moment we seem to be living in a blur of major news headlines so it’s easy to find references that everyone will pick up on. it’s harder when nothing much seems to be happening, it can end up being a bit ‘oh we’ve still fucked up the middle east…so…yeah…that’s still happening and stuff…hello, you look nice’ etc etc 

MM: If we were clever enough we’d invent a complicated algorithm programme that sources, digests and ranks news stories according to relevance and public awareness, which we would download directly into our heads before each show. But we tend to just log in to Twitter. 

You manage to make biting political satire amusing – have you always been politically inclined, or is this just a fallout from living in London?

GB: We used to shy away from it a lot more than we do now. A couple of years ago we wrote a song called ‘Political Song’ which actively tried to be as apathetic as possible (which in a sense is kind of a political statement but…whatever). We’ve always been political beneath the make up but only recently did we consciously decide to start being more explicit in the show. I think there’s been a noticeable shift in public thinking recently- very Us V Them – which scares me so I guess our decision to satirise the political currents is a natural reaction to that.

How did you hook up with your Julian J Smith? Are all your outfits by him? and what is the process of creating them?

GB: Julian is the crazed visual genius behind all the outfits we’re wearing at the moment. We met him about four years ago in Boombox (RIP) a few months before B&M were born. He has the largest wardrobe of incredible clothing known to mankind so when we started performing we would sometimes borrow things and as the shows got bigger, so did the outfits. Julian’s own line is an amazing synthesis of couture and clubwear and i think that’s something he brings to B&M – he designs all the looks based on ideas we’ve had for songs and he’s been to so many of our shows he can sometimes predict our sartorial needs before we can. 

MM: We’ve also had some outfits made for us by the incredible Fanny & Jessy too, although we’re not wearing any of them in this show. Their debut collection was called We Hope You Die Soon, so we kind of felt we connected on a philosophical level.

George Bourgeois by Louise Wright
George Bourgeois by Louise Wright.

I am particularly enamoured of your pastel hair ball outfit – who had the brainwave for that one? Any side effects to wearing it? I seem to recall there were bits getting caught in your mouth that you described as pubes. Are your pubes falling out as the shows progress? Will you end up bald?

GB: That outfit is the bane of my life. I adore it but JEEESUS the upkeep is hard. It’s made from hundreds of metres of artificial weave, so I have to comb it with a weave brush and pick out of the little bits of crap it sweeps off the floor each night. And yeah the hair gets everywhere. But the outfit is so good I really can’t complain. I think Julian had the brainwave for that too – we were talking about creating an outfit that would be quite body dysmorphic and have its own life when I move around the stage. As luck would have it, the weave shop round the corner from me were doing an offer on multicoloured hair so I bought the entire stock. Oh, and I live in a constant state of fear about going bald. I look shit in hats. - Love the fact you talk about your actual hair there, rather than the outfit going bald.

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Is it hard to switch off? What do you do to relax? How are your days filled when you are doing a run such as the one at Sadler’s Wells?

GB: I’m terrible at switching off when we have theatre runs. We both hate the process of being reviewed, and that really only ever happens during a bigger theatre run – critics rarely go outside their comfort zone – so as a result we tend to be highly strung til press night and then go ‘fuck it, let’s enjoy it’ after that. At the moment my days are filled with sleeping, reading and working on my best-selling novel, which at the moment is one paragraph long. My attention span is shot to pieces.

MM: It is really hard to switch off, and no matter what activities I partake in the day, ultimately I’m always thinking about the show in the evening. I made the terrible mistake of going into central London to do some Christmas shopping yesterday, and after about 10mins in Uniqlo I had a mental breakdown - Know the Feeling well! - and had to leave. So I try not to leave my house much in the day, I can’t really be held accountable for my actions otherwise.
 
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According to Run Riot you have ambitions to “go rock” next year, and you are also working on a musical…. can you give us any sneaky tips as to what this will be about, and who we can expect you to collaborate with on either of these projects?

GB: At the moment they’re both quite distant pipe dreams. The musical actually started as a joke when we were warming up before shows and would improvise a really cliched musical-theatre style opening sequence to a show set in a small town. Then it sort of stuck as an idea – we worked on a project for Theatre 503 in November, where we wrote a song for someone else to perform – the first time we’d done that – and it was really fun so the plan next year is to come up with some songs for other singers and take it from there. Maybe it’ll turn into a musical, maybe we’ll end up churning out jingles for local radio ads. Watch this space…

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Since it’s Christmas time, have you got any top B&M tips for how to get through the big day? And what will you be wearing? 

GB: We’ve both got a fetching his ‘n’ hers red sequin christmas number, which I daresay will make an appearance. Top tip: if there’s any hyperactive kids around on Christmas day, slip them a tenner in return for their Ritalin supply. Your day will float by in a golden blur, and you’ll have sorted out at least one christmas present – kids just love cold, hard cash.

You can book tickets to see Bourgeois & Maurice, performing up until the 23rd December, right here.

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