EDINBURGH – The Lady Boys of Bangkok return to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year to once again tackle taboos with a show drawing inspiration from some of the planet’s greatest divas.
Set to the familiar beats of Madonna, Whitney Houston and Beyonce, the troupe’s “The Greatest Showgirls” plays out over two hours in the warmth of a large tent oozing with the smell of Thai food, which can be nibbled on during the show, transporting the viewer to the streets of Bangkok.
Dressed in eye-catching pink feather dresses and drenched in sequins, some of the 16-strong company burst out on to the stage to the 90s anthem “Everybody’s Free,” hinting at the main theme running through the spectacle.
The English term “ladyboy” is widely used to refer to male to female transgender people, although in Thailand the original term “kathoey” is slightly more socially complex, often not used by those who identify as transgender or third sex themselves.
The company defines the term as people of a “highly artistic” nature who have the right to define their own sexuality and recognizes them as an “honorable part of the rich cultural heritage of Thailand.”
This show sees the Lady Boys of Bangkok turn 21 at the Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, and included routines to classics like “My Way,” “Don’t Stop Me Now” as well as modern hits, such as “Taki Taki” by reggaeton star Ozuna or “This Is Me,” from the soundtrack of the recent film, “The Greatest Showman.”
By the time “This Is Me,” originally performed by Keala Settle, comes on, most of the audience is up on their feet or even gathering around the foot of the stage.
Amid a constant fluctuation in tempo, from softer songs to furious numbers, the evening also requires 400 costumes, dazzling the stage with color.
“It’s their 21st year here at the Fringe, where it all started way back in the day, and they’re really excited to be bringing a brand new show, ‘The Greatest Showgirls’, this year,” Jamie John, the comedian who performs the skits between costume changes, tells Efe.
Lady Boys of Bangkok first featured at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe back in 1998 and such was its success at the time that the troupe has gone on to tour Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
It was John’s first year with the company, but he swore it would not be his last.
“It’s an amazing journey and the girls are absolutely fantastic performers,” he said.
At the end of their twice-daily shows (three times at the weekend), the cast collects donation for the charity Safe Child Thailand, which helps Thai children at risk of social exclusion.
Also, as part of its association with Edinburgh’s taxi association, the show helps raise funds for hospitals and cancer patients.
This year, to boost that initiative, the cast decided to pose with some of Edinburgh’s taxi, paying tribute to the drivers who accompany the performers throughout the month, transporting heavy costumes and props.
The Edinburgh Fringe runs for most of August every year.