Image above: The Sex Shells with Le Strange (second from left) and Dom Top (right), photo by Tom & Denelle Ellis from Peanut Factory Studios
The Sex Shells are a London-based gay sketch comedy group who do a monthly show at east London pub The Glory and have performed at the Brighton Fringe and Latitude. The group is made up of Le Strange, Calum Mac, Dom Top and That Woman Rosie, and their shows happen to be some of the most wonderfully gay things to have ever graced a British stage.
XL is their latest, biggest and first proper hour-long show, and it premieres tonight at The Glory. It will feature old and new material, hundreds of chemsex-related puns and thousands of rhinestones. That sounds exciting, if a little confusing, so I spoke to Dom Top and Le Strange – one half of the Sex Shells – to find out more.
VICE: How did XL come about?
Le Strange: We've been strutting our stuff on various stages around east London and the provinces for a while now, and XL is like a greatest hits show. along with some punchy new material. The whole thing is couched within a massive neo-classical golden-age-of-Hollywood set and we're wearing crystal-encrusted costumes. It has a much higher production value than our older shows had.
Dom Top: The musical stuff is a mix of West End show tunes, Broadway show tunes, pop music and Disney songs, of course. We've all reworked and rewritten them so all of the lyrics relate to anything to do with the the queer east London experience.
Has the tone of your shows changed over time?
Le Strange: Our earlier shows all dealt with the chemsex phenomenon, afterparties, getting off our tits on mephedrone – that kind of stuff. We've slowly grown our wholesome wings, so we now also deal with things like love stories at the self service checkout machine. And our hearts have grown big enough that we've been thinking about the drug journeys of others, so I'm going to be playing Nigella Lawson at the peak of the cocaine scandal.
Dom Top: We tend to do stuff that's about gay hookup apps as well – we have Grindr love stories and songs about finding love in London but having to cross the river for it, and how difficult it is to go from east to south – because gays are lazy and just want something within 300 metres of them.
Le Strange: We're just taking it a lot further. We have the complete lifecycle of the gay – from leaving a provincial town to finally being ensconced in a wealthy pink pounded ménage-a-trois, to the tune of 15 different ABBA songs, I believe.
That is a lot of ABBA songs.
Dom Top: The majority of the ABBA songs are truncated versions in the medley, so you won't be hearing all 15. Some of the sketches we'll be doing are slightly condensed versions of ones that have been longer in other shows, mainly because we just want to get the joke across and then move on quickly. Keep hitting people between the eyes.
Le Strange: It's going to be flash, flash, pow, flash, flash, flash.
Do you perform outside of east London?
Dom Top: We performed at Latitude over the summer as part of The Glory's lineup, which was our first real big tour kind of experience. And we also opened the first ever Channel Islands Pride in September of 2015.
Le Strange: That was extremely special. We left the parade on a bus with various island dignitaries, including a Shirley Bassey impersonator. I'm from Jersey, and having grown up flouncing past Waterstone's wearing a rhinestone top and foundation and being snarled at throughout my teenage years, it meant a lot that suddenly there were 3,000 people filling the streets because of us. It was perfect.
Dom Top I missed the bus because I went home with a couple and wrecked their marriage.
Le Strange: It was a very meaningful weekend.
Sounds like it.
Dom Top: And we did the Brighton Fringe last year, which was a fun experience – even though we did treat it more like a giant piss-up. We had a show every night for four nights, and we would just go get drunk during the day.
Le Strange: We became regular features at one of the rollercoasters on the pier. We would queue up outside it, squealing like banshees at holidaymakers to get in the queue too, until there were enough of us to fill it. So we're happy to be taking our show around to festivals this year again.
So what's the new show going to look like?
Dom Top: For one, we're going to have actual production value for the first time ever. So we've got sets, some parts of which have been stolen from Shoreditch High Street. Usually the setup for our shows is built with dental floss and Blu-Tack.
Le Strange: We're going to be slick, choreographed, there will be a lot of crystals. I've got an Elizabethan ruff in black lace and pink satin.
Dom Top: I have a jewel-encrusted leather harness.
Le Strange: We also feature a jewel-encrusted codpiece, and Rose – our fantastic pianist – will be sporting a look that's like Queen Amidala goes to Spain.
Dom Top: Generally, a lot of jewels. Don't shine anything too bright on us or you'll go blind.
So is everything ready? Do you have anything left to prepare before the premiere?
Le Strange: Well, I've got 744 pale rose crystals to glue to our costumes this afternoon.
XL runs from the 23rd of February until the 4th of March at The Glory, and you can get tickets here.