Diane Chorley: Duchess of Canvey – Underbelly

image“I was born in Canvey on the coldest day of the year. Mum said I was steaming when I came out. She was a good woman, hands like iron files she had, teeth like crackling. My father was a Hodd Carrier. Silent as bread, big old boots, never said a word. Turns out he was having an affair with a chiropodist from Billericay. Mum found out and killed him. Literally. Eve of my sixteenth birthday and I was introduced to motherhood. Well, looking after our Wayne, he’s my little brother. Mum got life.

Diane Chorley Duchess of Canvey hasn’t had an easy life but my god has it been eventful. It’s the late 70’s, with Dad dead and Mum doing life it was just her and her little brother, Wayne, left to fend for themselves on the estate in Canvey. She left school early, “I weren’t learning nothing there anyways” and started a lucrative business selling drugs, “I asked Ron and Cancer Barry to be my ‘weight’ and we had ourselves a firm.” In a bid to legitimise her lifestyle she opened a night club, “I opened those doors as wide as I could. The gays, the straights, the Gary’s, the Punks, the Goths, the Yuppies, everyone was welcome down The Flick.” The club kicked off and Diane shot to fame rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jason Donavan, Roy Walker and Mick Jagger and before long she was recording her own album, “I was a bleeding house old name.”

“Of course no one could have predicted it would all end quite as spectacularly as it did. I wish I had time to tell you it all my babe, but I’ve got to sign on.”

This is the story we hear as Diane recounts the life events that have lead her to this very moment, backed up by her band of miss fits plucked straight out of the Adams Family, and her partner, her man, her rock, Ron. She is your typical Essex bird in a jump suit and a perm and a whole lot of love for everyone. She captures this character perfectly and draws us all in with her warmth. It’s nostalgic, Diane could quite easily be your mum’s mate from back in the day, your not-so-typical working class gal with a story to tell. She recounts these events in between renditions of various songs both originals from her album (gems such as “Dagenham Eyes” and “Love is a Game”) and a few covers with her own added flare for good measure. It’s cabaret at its finest, with hilarious songs supported by the hugely talented band. Ron the manly mono-tonal but loveable sweetheart, seems so out of place in this camp setting, but it’s clear he has a deep connection with Diane and offers the finishing touches to an already side splitting set. Then of course there’s the Duchess herself Diane, she captures our hearts from the off with her ridiculous but relatable stories that are offered to us through casual chat, a lip twitch and a cheeky look, she works the audience masterfully letting us all know for certain who the royalty around here really is “alright my babes?”

Reviewed by Bob Galereux
Photo: Rob Greig

Diane Chorley: Duchess of Canvey is an absolute must see at the fringe this year with something to tickle every type of audience from all over. She can be found gracing the stage at Underbelly Topside at 22:30 until the 30th of August.