The Burlesque Show now seems comfortably to occupy a regular slot every January at the Royal and Derngate. We saw the first one, back in July 2011, which at the time hit us as a bombshell of unexpected delight. It came back six months later, with some changes but many similarities, when it confirmed its place in our portfolio of must-sees. Alas, we couldn’t make the date for last year’s show, but this year it was confidently scheduled for two nights (and both sell-outs I believe), we got great seats for the Saturday night show, and I knew we would be in for all sorts of treats.
Burlesque is a fascinating genre. If you’ve not been to one of these shows before, you might just be expecting a sequence of stripteases. It’s true that some rather lovely ladies peel off their layers down to a bare minimum, but, as Kenny Everett would have said, it’s all in the best possible taste. Not remotely smutty or pornographic, these routines are more titillating than anything else; they are likely to be elegant, witty, downright hilarious, or a combination of all three. In addition, you have a number of alternative acts: singers, comedians, magicians and “variety”, into which slot any number of completely screwball entertainers could fit. In the absence of a programme you’ve got absolutely no idea what they’ve got lined up for you – which gives it an additional frisson – and the sequence of acts is never predictable.
If you’ve seen earlier Burlesques at the Royal, there were a few changes to the style in this year’s show (although I don’t know if these changes were in place last year). For one thing, our delightful hostess (more of whom shortly) encouraged us to react with noisy abandon each time a young lady got a little daring with her déshabillement. In the past we might have just sat there respectfully appreciative, but clearly that’s not what they want from us anymore. They want feedback! The man to my right needed no further encouragement to whoop excitedly at the merest drop of a glove, and I suspect his wife may occasionally have wanted the earth to open and swallow her up at his reactions. Still, like any good husband, he was only doing what he was told.
There were also (I felt) slightly fewer acts this time and our hostess played a greater role throughout the evening’s proceedings. No problem there, as it was the return of Sarah Louise Young, this time in her alternative persona of Sammy Mavis Junior, a trailer park slut with a heart of gold. She spoils us with some great comedy songs, like “You’re the Greatest Audience”, “Trailer Boys” and a love song to her new man, who was (allegedly) in the audience that night, where she confessed how deeply and for how long she would love him. She’s got a great rapport with the audience, convinced one poor chap to join her up on stage with her doing press-ups, and carried on her teasing of the people in the boxes, who turned out to include the same Trevor whom she sang to on her iPhone two years ago.
As in previous years, we were treated to three ladies who did some stripteasing, but I think it’s fair to say they were a more varied selection than on previous occasions. Miss Beau Rocks was the opening and closing act, and she epitomises the beautiful and sensual Burlesque style (but with a nice touch of cheekiness). We also met the Exotic Luna Rosa, who performed two striking routines, and who either challenges or confirms your beliefs that tattoos are or are not sexy. And we were entertained by Miss Glorian Gray, who I think was my favourite act of the entire show, a splendidly gutsy buxom lady who danced and stripped whilst bouncing up and down on a trampoline. Yes, you read that right. It had to be seen to be believed. It was hilarious, and somehow you could strangely appreciate it as its own art form, or sport. I could imagine that at the Olympics. It’s a shame we don’t see Miss Kittie Klaw performing her routines anymore – I loved the one she did a couple of years ago that involved finding spiders between all the layers of her clothing – but she’s “management” and “stagehand” now, so we have to be content with just the occasional purr from her.
For variety we had the amazing Rod Laver – no, not the legendary Australian tennis champ, but a circus performer who can do incredible things with ping pong balls. We’re not talking anything seedy Bangkok style here, more a question of holding them in his mouth, then projectiling in all directions, against all surfaces and catching them (orally) on the return. He can take five balls in his mouth; no sniggering, please. The more balls he devours the more his cheeks puff out so that he looks like the old MGM cartoon dog Droopy. Pure variety, extraordinarily skilful, and very very funny. After the interval he returned with Performance Artist Alexandra Hofgartner for more ping pong merrily on high, where the balls almost took on a foreplay role as they were passed between the two of them in all kinds of semi-erotic ways. Not quite Royal Variety Show material, but very rewarding nonetheless.
And then an act that defies everything you can think of: health and safety, sanity, logic, and the laws of electrical resistance. Meet the Great Voltini, whose act involves sending charges of electricity through his, and his partner Nurse Electra’s, bodies to illuminate light bulbs, fluorescent tubes and power machines. His pièce de resistance comes when he shoves an electric probe into his backside and it lights up a halo on his head. You think you’ve seen it all? Not till you’ve seen this act you haven’t. Hilarious and terrifying.
It’s always the magician that seems to be top of the bill, and Pete Firman comes completely worthy of that accolade. This chap takes sleight of hand to another planet. I’ve worked out how he does his tricks; either he can move his hands at an outrageously fast speed so that the brain can’t process what the eyes see, or he simply manages to make us look at something else whilst he’s “doing the business”. Or both. Of course, he distracts us with brilliantly funny chatting with the audience, bringing assistants on to the stage, and chucking monkey nuts around; but at the end of the day, he can really make magic happen. His trick of having someone write their name on a tenner which is then miraculously discovered in a sealed envelope inside his wallet is spectacular. But the thing that really got me was his ability to pass a handkerchief through the microphone stand. He did it right in front of our eyes. Twice. I’m a sucker for magic; I so want to believe in it, that you could fool me with the easiest trick imaginable and I’d think it was the fifth dimension. Anyway, Mr Firman was great, I could watch him for hours.
If you want to find out more about the Ministry of Burlesque (it would be great to know what their civil servants wear) you can visit their website here. Unquestionably this was another Burlesque triumph at the Royal. A little teasing, a little horror and a lot of humour. More please!