A drag show star has been banned by the National Theatre from performing again at a family-friendly festival for making a sexually explicit joke about children in front of a horrified young audience.
A performer said children should be taught to ‘open their minds, open their hearts and open their legs’ before drag acts took their clothes off as part of the show in South London.
The drag performances were part of the National Theatre’s 2022 River Stage festival in July and August.
The National Theatre said the comments made by a performer went ‘against the festival’s content and performance guidelines’ and the performer in question would be banned from River Stage in future.
The festival was described by TimeOut as ‘a month of outdoor live music, dance, performance, workshops and family fun’.
The first weekend of the festival – July 15-July 17 – was hosted by The Glory, an East London bar which describes itself as ‘London’s leading queer venue and performance mecca’.
The Glory performed a variety of shows outside the National Theatre including cabaret, line dancing and a disco.
A parent who raised concerns about the performances said although they welcomed the diversity of the show, it was overly sexualised and inappropriate for children.
In a post on Mumsnet, they said they went to the show thinking it would be entertaining for the whole family.
The parent added: ‘We were there from 6:30 and the drag act on stage was promoting inclusivity and had what started as a great message.
‘They said: “We need to teach our children to open their hearts, teach our children to open their minds and to teach our children to open their legs.” The last line was said with the same tone as if it was a risque joke.’
They added both they and their partner were: ‘Just disgusted by what we saw. We couldn’t believe it.
‘This act had a short dress on and their bulge was showing throughout. It was just plain weird.
‘Fine in a club, not at a festival literally targeted as being good for families.’
They added: ‘Every single drag king act took their clothes off… and were showing their scars from their mastectomy/gender-affirming surgery.
‘I do get the message that they are proud and don’t need to hide and really I do agree with that, but it just felt weird that women who now identify as men are still having to take their clothes off, whereas the drag queens didn’t remove one item of clothing.’
Another audience member posted on Twitter: ‘It felt inappropriate. Sunny, early evening lots of young families with children running about and then loud, overtly sexualised drag costumes and performances.
‘Hard to ignore if you were on the South Bank as the sound carried a long way.’
Other parents reacted angrily to the show’s content, with one concerned parent saying: ‘Child sex abuse isn’t something risqué to joke about, it’s a disgusting thing to make fun of.’
Another said: ‘Whether or not it was family-friendly, I think it’s disgusting to “joke” about children in that way.
‘There is no “right” way to take that comment – it’s a sexual comment about children and, to me, that is not something you can laugh about.’
One parent said on Twitter: ‘I would have walked out if I was there with my kids. On what planet is this normal?’
Some online advised the attendee to send a formal complaint to the National Theatre about the show.
However, some argued they should have seen the drag show was not age appropriate for children.
One said: ‘I really have no clue how you thought this was suitable for children or family friendly.’
‘I mean, the joke was disgusting and not acceptable but nothing about this whole even[t] screams “bring your kids.”‘
The complaining parent admitted: ‘That is fair, looking at it now I wouldn’t have thought it was for kiddies.
‘I just saw it advertised in time out and it didn’t sound that bad and had a lot of emphasis on family fun.’
A spokesperson for The National Theatre said: ‘The National Theatre’s River Stage festival includes a wide range of free performances and activities across five weekends – from dance workshops to DJs, striving to foster an atmosphere of positivity and inclusivity.