They’re all dressed up and ready to party – the Lady Boys of Bangkok have pitched their tent in Sheffield city centre to add some fun and glamour to Christmas.
Their show, Glamorous Amorous, is a cabaret show with the cast of amazing-looking lady boys performing a mixture of lip-synching, dance and comedy.
I spoke to two of the stars of the show. Olivia’s been with Lady Boys of Bangkok for nine years, Jacqueline for five.
Both were born men but decided to live as women.
Olivia said: “When I was a young girl I knew I’m born in a man’s body. I want to be a lady.”
She added: “My family don’t like that I feel like this. They’d like me to be like a normal guy. I’d like that they accept it.”
Jacqueline has found more acceptance. She said: “My family is OK. My mum has seen the shows. She thinks it’s for me to choose my life but she worries about me when I am older.”
Company manager Anwar said that sending money home often helps families to be reconciled to the lady boys’ choice of career.
At home in Thailand, lady boys are a well-known phenomenon and beauty pageants are big hit shows on TV. One airline has now trained its first lady boys as air hostesses.
However, they still face prejudice and have to use their original names on their passports, which say they are male.
Olivia said: “I want everyone to accept about the third sex, who are in many parts of the society now and in movies and comedy. They’re accepted in offices.
“We prefer that they accept how I am.”
In Thailand kathoey is the name for the third sex, but both Olivia and Jacqueline are adamant they want to be known as ladies. Some lady boys have sex change operations but not all do.
You’d never know from their costumes, though, and anything male is cleverly hidden away.
The performers say they love what they do.
Olivia said: “I like to perform in costumes and make people happy and enjoy it.”
Jacqueline added: “I’m very happy when I’m performing on stage.
“When we finish the show, everyone stands up and claps. That makes me very happy and proud.”
In some scenes the lady boys impersonate famous singers.
Olivia’s favourite is Cher. She said: “I learn about the stars from watching YouTube so many times to look at the dancing and how they move. Then we put our own personalities into that character.”
Jacqueline’s favourite is Beyonce. She said: “When she moves she’s so sexy, and when she dances and walks. She looks nice.”
There’s quite a bit of preparation before the show and the lady boys take 30 to 45 minutes to perfect their stage make-up, something else they learned how to do from watching YouTube videos.
When she retires from the stage, Olivia hopes to put that expertise to use by opening a beauty salon, while Jacqueline dreams of having her own restaurant serving Thai food.
The tour is like moving a small army about, with 16 performers and 18 crew, said tour manager Sandra Jolly. The performers all change costume 20 times during a show.
She added: “We’re quite excited about the show which is brand new this year. We’ve never brought it to Sheffield and they’re very, very excited about coming here. It opens the door to a new city.
“We have a new show every year and it has changed for Christmas with a little more comedy or numbers added.
“We’re encouraging people to have an entire experience and we’re bringing a bit of Thailand to the UK.
“We don’t just want the audience to sit and watch them perform, we encourage people to join in.”
Sandra admits that not everyone is keen at first: “We find that men come very reluctantly. The curtains go back and the men are like, ‘They have to be women. They can’t be men’. The women say, ‘Can you stop looking at them?’ It’s quite entertaining.”
She added: “It’s men dressed as women performing in a tent. For some reason it really works!”
The Lady Boys of Bangkok are performing daily until December 14 at the Sabai Pavilion, a special circus big top on Devonshire Green which offers cabaret-style seating, a bar and food service.
Box office: at the venue, go online to www.ladyboysofbangkok.co.uk or call 0871 7050705.