“It’s not really a tourists’ place”, says Maman. She perches next to me on a stool smoking, while I sit a little nervously wondering how to broach the questions I have come armed with.
For 17 years Maman has been here, on Fridays and Saturdays with her two girls. In the days when Le Vaudeville was a night club, Maman performed at Gay Sundays for four years. And then there was no more night club; Le Vaudeville became a theatre again. But by then she was famous enough to open her own place: Chez Maman. Now there are no flashy signs outside and she welcomes regulars with a kiss. “You have to deserve the place” she says, firmly.
I spent an evening in Chez Maman, witnessing Maman and her two girls perform a three act drag cabaret show. I was crammed in a small dark space, watching with the rest of the audience as Maman strutted along the bar singing Qui Sera, Sera: all shapely legs in nylon, lipstick, satin gloves, false eyelashes.
Maman spends up to two hours getting ready for her shows. She considers wigs too hot and horrible, but high heels and make-up boost self-confidence and allow her to assume the personality of strong women: Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé. She has over a hundred acts comprising everything she likes: the first performance is always planned in advance, but after that it all depends on the audience.
And then there are the clothes: Maman buys them in Brussels, goes shopping in H&M, orders them from Thailand. Sometimes her Mum makes them. There's the familiar problem of finding some fabulous dress, and wondering what on earth to wear it for. These days finding inspiration is harder, but with three acts a night, she knows that the show must be a draw, "otherwise it just annoys people". Once a year her stage is the venue for a "Nuit des débutantes", for guys who want to try performing. They receive two weeks of training, and sometimes a new star is born ....
Open Thursday to Saturday until the small hours – Maman performs on Friday and Saturday. There is no entrance charge, but expect the prices of drinks to compensate.Rue des Grands Carmes 7, 1000 Brussels
Google map: bit.ly/qzZLT9