Episode 3: Polari – The secret language of theatre

11 May 2021

Where does the secret language of Polari come from? Who used Polari? How do you speak Polari? Why was Polari adopted by the British gay community in theatre and who still uses Polari today?

In this podcast episode Sue Lawther-Brown carefully peels back the many layers of Polari. Her guests Paul Baker and Rae Coates teach Sue some Polari words and educate her about its origins and adoption by the British gay community in the first half of the twentieth century.

Paul and Rae talk about when Polari’s cover was blown in the late 1960s, when the Radio Times published a glossary of terms to accompany the hugely popular BBC radio show Round The Horne, in which Polari was spoken by the characters Julian and Sandy (played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams).

Paul talks about how Polari was widely used backstage in theatres and who are the high profile speakers of Polari today, such as Paul O’Grady and Julian Clary.   Artists such as Jez Dolan are creating works that celebrate Polari and the LGBT+ community.

Rae also talks about his early days in theatre and the use of Polari amongst his peers. He also tells us how he learned his craft working with the Yul Brynner, and how he spoke Polari dressing the stars including Matthew Perry and Frances De La Tour.  Rae tells Sue it’s so bona to vada your dolly old eek!

Paul and Rae both talk in Polari and give Sue a couple of quick tips too!

Theatre Unwrapped would like to thank guests Paul Baker and Rae Coates for their fascinating contributions.

If you would like Sue to unwrap a theatre story for you, or if you have feedback about this or any other episode of Theatre Unwrapped drop her a line at podcast@wolseytheatre.co.uk

Host: Sue Lawther-Brown from the New Wolsey theatre

Guest 1:  Paul Baker, author of Fabulosa! and Professor of linguistics at Lancaster University

Guest 2:  Rae Coates, retired Theatre Dresser, Choreographer, Director and Polari speaker.

The New Wolsey Theatre is supported by Arts Council England, Suffolk County Council and Ipswich Borough Council.


Download the transcript for this episode here.