Review – The Burlesque Show, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 26th January 2018

Burlesque ShowIt’s always a pleasure to welcome back those boffins from the Ministry of Burlesque, the sexiest civil servants on two legs. Once a year they administrate their way into the Royal Theatre with a superb selection of comedy, magic and general allure and, for a couple of hours, one’s humdrum day to day life is transported to a world where everything is beautiful. Yes, even for half an hour or so on a Friday evening, you can think of magician Pete Firman as beautiful. At a stretch.

Marlene CheaptrickHaving enjoyed the sultry pleasures of Miss Lili la Scala hosting last year, this year we were commèred by die schöne Marlene Cheaptrick, also known as the one and only Abigail Collins from Dagenham. Frau Cheaptrick wove a spell of pure Germanic enchantment as she guided us through her box of Teutonic delights. A highlight as always with Abi Collins was her interaction with members of the audience; on Friday night it was young Jamie who got a little hot under the collar as he sat on the stage with Frau Cheaptrick’s kleine Vergnügungsscheide upside down in his face. But he was a gentleman and did not take advantage of her vulnerability, which was just as well as his mum and dad were watching. She also did her manic and fantastic hula hoop act, in which no items of savoury confectionary were harmed. Assisting the lovely Marlene was Mia Merode, whom we have seen on the very same stage performing some stunning Burlesque, here in the slightly less glamorous (but nonetheless vital) role of preparing the stage for the next act. When acts drop feathers, wine, underwear, blood, sweat and tears during the performance of their routines, you can understand how important it is to have someone responsible to clean up; and she does it beautifully.

Mia MerodeAll the acts appeared twice, once in the first half and once in the second. The Dramatis Personae was almost exactly the same as last year, not that it mattered; this year’s show was notable for the way it really stepped up the humour. Mrs Chrisparkle and I were basically roaring with laughter all the way from start to finish apart from when it was unseemly to do so in front of naked flesh.

lena-maeWe met the delectable Lena Mae, who first appeared covered in a costume made of balloons. These were never going to last, particularly as she also produced a carrot with a prick on the end. A few pricks later and the balloons had burst to reveal her hidden charms. In her second appearance she did a superb, traditional fan dance in an example of pure, classic Burlesque; a fabulous combination of the elegant and the provocative.

Robin DaleThen we met Robin Dale, whom we also saw last year, performing an incredible juggling and balancing act with an open bottle of wine and a couple of glasses. Mr Dale was standing on a table, wine glass on his forehead, another glass in one hand and bottle in the other, ready to bring to life the human wine equivalent of a chocolate fountain, when a woman in the balcony shouted out “Hey Baby!” which almost made him teeter off the top. But he held on and managed it perfectly, so kudos to him. When, in the second half, he is joined by his partner in juggling crime, I still haven’t quite worked out why Mr Dale suddenly becomes one half of Boon and Bailie; but there you are, that’s showbiz I guess. Once again the dapper twosome performed dextrous feats of juggling and balancing whilst slowly removing all their (and each other’s) clobber. They left their hats on, in the best Tom Jones style, but this time Mr Dale’s thong didn’t twang into the audience which must be of some mercy.

Hot PotatoesNext was a new act – hurrah – the Hot Potato Syncopators! Three elegant 1920s toffs who dish out the raciest, paciest tunes of their day by means of ukulele, a single piece of string tied to a stick of wood, and a saw. They’re dynamite! Huge fun, they really recreate the era with their monocles, plummy accents and inspired choice of music. Decadence on a shoestring, we loved it.

Pete FirmanOnce again we had the welcome return of magician Pete Firman, and precisely the same three tricks that he performed last year – the ever-growing numbers of cards in the pack, the cutting-a-rope trick, and the signed £20 note revealed zipped up in his wallet. I think I’ve seen these tricks maybe six times now, and I still haven’t got a scooby as to how he does them. As always, his gift of the gab is hilarious, and he really is the most entertaining magician, as he mercilessly rips the p*** out of his audience victims who just love it. This time he had the spangly-dressed Claire on stage to help with the rope trick, with Steve on the £20 notes and Roly on the monkey nuts. Very funny, very intriguing, very clever. I could watch him all night.

Betty Blue EyesWe were also treated to two divine and hilarious Burlesque routines from the incredible Miss Betty Blue Eyes. One was a stunningly beautiful appearance in blue which included an arrival in a spaceship, but my favourite was an homage to Liberace where, clad (or otherwise) in the black and white of a piano keyboard, she tucked herself in at a tiny toy piano to play chopsticks. Unsurprisingly, with such a mini stool to perch on, it took Ms Blue Eyes several attempts to get herself comfy, but she pulled it off. You can’t get better than Ms Blue Eyes for milking the humour out of traditional Burlesque!

Alexandra HofgartnerOur final act was the elegant and Berlinesque Alexandra Hofgartner, whom we have seen here many times before, performing her daring aerial acrobatics with just the aid of two strips of material and some womanly muscle. It’s a circus/variety skill but carried out with true Burlesque style. The audience loved it, as always.

boon-and-bailieThus drew another Burlesque Show to its conclusion; it’s always a feast for the eyes and a tonic for your laughter organs. This was a particularly funny reincarnation of the show and everyone was on magnificent form. Can’t wait for next year’s!

Review – The Burlesque Show, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 14th January 2017

Burlesque ShowOnce again, the Ministry of Burlesque have trundled into town bringing their collection of stunning costumes, jugglers balls, magic tricks and nipple tassels. We’ve been coming every year since 2011 and it’s always a sheer delight. Last year’s show was just a tad of a disappointment as there were so many acts giving us the same sheer delight that they had given us in previous years. That equates to sheer delight for newbies, and pleasurable reminders for us old hands.

Lili La SHowever, this year they rang the changes in true style. The biggest and brightest change was in the beguiling personage of our new host, Miss Lili la Scala. Mrs Chrisparkle and I have seen Lili once before, in Edinburgh last summer, where we decided to partake of one of her Another F*cking Variety Shows, a late night cabaret entertainment where Lili introduces us to a range of artistes plying their trade at the Fringe; and it really was a splendid show. For the Burlesque Show, she looked perfect in the elegant setting of the Royal Theatre, entertaining us with songs old and new. Mashing up two different Let Me Entertain Yous is an inspired way to start a show; I really love how Lili retros a modern song into a cabaret setting. In Edinburgh she gave us a moving but refreshing Space Oddity; in this show we enjoyed her semi-operatic version of Female of the Species. She has a winning combination of demure and daft which makes her quite irresistible in many ways; what the late Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle would have called Strictly a Female Female.

lena-maeStarting the show, and finishing us off, so to speak, was the delectable Miss Lena Mae with two classic Burlesque strip routines, full of allure, humour, teasing, and costumes with surprises of their own. We hadn’t had the pleasure of her company before and clearly it’s been long overdue. She conveys all the joy of what she’s doing out into the auditorium and we love her back for it in return. Classy, sophisticated and with more than a twinkle in her eye. We also had two (well two and a half really) delicious helpings of Miss Abigail Collins; Peggy Suedfirst in her guise as Miss Garden Verandah, where, in a floral-inspired outfit, she performs her amazing hoop act, and secondly as Miss Peggy Sued, who spent the interval in the bar introducing herself to unsuspecting punters (well, draping herself across them) and then came out and did her extraordinary balancing act. It’s unlike any other you’ve seen – basically she picks on two blokes and then does the splits whilst balancing on their shoulders. Well done Gary and Steve for your sterling effort. It was lovely to see Miss Sued back cavorting on stage, pulling her leotard here and there to prevent it from chafing her personal areas, singing and dancing like there’s no tomorrow.

Alexandra HofgartnerMore acrobatics – of the slightly more traditional kind – were provided by frequent visitor Miss Alexandra Hofgartner, effortlessly weaving herself in and out of a hoop in the sky with only a long chiffon for extra support. Miss Hofgartner exudes dignity with everything she does and is always a wonderful addition to any Burlesque show. Another new face to us, Robin Dale, gave us an intriguing juggling act with wine glasses (sometimes filled with “real” wine),boon-and-bailie then came back in the second half with his friend Jack Bailie to perform further feats of juggling whilst they both took their clothes off. Fortunately, protective top hats were at the ready to prevent anyone in the audience from having a stroke. A very funny act, but be careful where you sit, or else you might get Robin’s thong flung in your face.

Pete FirmanAnd you can never get too much Pete Firman. We’ve seen him perform his magic many times and on each occasion he perplexes me. Just a few tricks for this show – the cards that magically keep increasing in number, the rope that gets cut in two and somehow self-heals, and the £20 note taken from a member of the audience that disappears and is found, not in a monkey-nut but sealed inside his zipped wallet. I specifically watched him like a hawk during that last trick because I was determined not to take my eye off where I think the note was kept during most of the act. Fat lot of use that was; although I think I may be one stage closer to working it out. Just maybe. The audience proved something of a handful for Mr Firman, though. His choice of assistant for the rope trick was Pat in the front row. Would she get up and help him? Would she buffalo. But Mr F was not in the mood for picking on someone else. Resistance was futile. When she finally got up, after much persuasion, she had no need for alarm, it all went swimmingly well. Would the same thing happen with the £20 note trick? Mr F’s victim was the shy and retiring Phil – not! If ever a magician’s assistant gave as good as he got, it was our Phil. I think I actually saw Mr F – temporarily – stumped for a response. I guess that’s always going to be a risk when you call on bright sparks from the audience.

And, as an audience, we really were fired up by the whole show, from start to finish. Our willingness to get stuck in and react noisily to whatever shenanigans was happening on stage, helped this particular instalment of the Burlesque Show to be (probably) the most enjoyable I’ve ever seen. We even miaowed incessantly at Stage Manager/Producer Miss Kittie Klaw as she cleared the stage ready for each new act. She responded with some miaows back and the occasional bum-wiggle. Every act really performed their socks off (literally in a few cases) and it was a very funny and sexy night’s entertainment. Fantastically well done to one and all!

Review – Pete Firman, TriX, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 12th November 2016

pete-firman-trixThis was the fourth time we’ve seen Pete Firman strut his stuff on the Royal stage, but who’s counting? That’s twice as part of the Burlesque Show, and also once in his own right as Trickster a couple of years ago. He’s obviously more streetwise now as the Trickster has become TriX; and he does exactly what it says on the tin, giving us trick after trick after trick, with nary a clue as to how he manages to achieve any of them.

petefirman-spellsI could just cheat now and refer you to my previous reviews because, essentially, his style hasn’t changed, his approach is the same, his Eric Morecambe-like patter hasn’t budged, his brilliant rapport with the audience is unaltered, and he still calls on members of the audience to help him out with all his tricks. He also still astonishes us with his bowling ball, with his sleight of hand card tricks, and with the mysteriously disappearing and reappearing £20 note; I know we’re being misled by those monkey nuts but I just don’t know how. I loved the tricks where £30 flew from one pocket to another; where a member of the audience was levitated, where five different types of drinks emerge out of the same Sainsbury’s juice carton; and I could go on but I’d be spoiling it for you.

petefirman-cardsHe is a brilliant entertainer; his magic stops you dead in your tracks and completely baffles you. He’s also very funny in a cheeky young whippersnapper sort of a way – I know he’s not that young, but he is in comparison to me. Mrs Chrisparkle and I were discussing in the interval with Mr Smallmind what we thought about Mr Firman’s not inconsiderable use of the F word. Mrs C found it refreshingly adult. Mr S thought perhaps it limited his audience. I sat on the fence. But he certainly does have a very lighthearted view on how a magic show should come across to the audience; no po-faced illusions here.

Pete FirmanNot a lot more to say really – two hours and a bit, crammed full of trickery and tittering. No need for support acts or beautiful hostesses when you have the population of Northampton to draw on to accompany you on stage. That was the penultimate night of his tour, so you’ve missed it now, I’m afraid, unless you catch him at the Soho Theatre for the week commencing 22nd November. But I’ve no doubt he’ll be back with another collection of mind-bogglers before too long. And I’ll certainly be booking.

Review – The Burlesque Show, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 16th January 2015

Burlesque ShowAlways keenly awaited, it’s the return of the Burlesque Show to Northampton for its annual couple of nights at the Royal, the perfect venue for such an intimate show. New to Burlesque? One thing you should know is that there are lots of providers of Burlesquerie out there, and you have to choose your supplier wisely. On our first ever trip to the Edinburgh fringe last August we attended a Best of Burlesque show, produced by Impresario Chaz Royal. It was not only the worst Burlesque we’ve ever seen, it was also probably the worst professional performance of any type I have ever seen, in 47 years of theatregoing. Well maybe second worst after the National Theatre of Zambia’s unintentionally hilarious Othello in 1979. Instead, my advice is to stick with the Burlesque Shows from the Ministry of Burlesque. They are so much funnier and classier.

Peggy SuedIf you’d seen last year’s Burlesque Show, you would perhaps be up for fewer surprises than usual, as there was some repetition. Not, however, in the form of our hostess, the bubbly and contortionally supple Miss Abigail Collins in her guise as Peggy Sued. She MC’d the evening with cheeky deftness, an eye to any naughty opportunities that came her way, and not a little bravery. Facially she reminded me of Jenny Éclair; however, bodily she was somewhat different. Imagine Jenny Éclair, legs stretched out at outrageous angles, clad in a skimpy leotard, balancing a cocktail glass on her forehead. That’s the nearest I can get to one particular lasting image from the evening. Or, imagine her supported (if that’s the right word) by two burly blokes from the audience (Geoff and Frank), part of one of her limbs resting on each guys shoulders as they wobble and move apart from each other, which could have resulted in yet a further drain on the resources of the local A&E. Or, think of her with ten hoops, each representing an ex-husband, lithely whirling them round her body in a rhythmic trance; that’s one helluva hoopla. She’s a very funny and skilful performer who held the whole show together with her irrepressible spirit and a sense of dangerous unpredictability. She also sparred sporadically with stagehand Arran, ostensibly a grumpy teenager with a penchant for backwards baseball caps, but in real life the show’s producer and better known as Burlesque Darling Miss Kittie Klaw, whom it would be great to see performing again.

Alexandra HofgartnerOur first act was Miss Alexandra Hofgartner, who gave us a spellbinding acrobatic act straight out of old fashioned variety, supported only by two thin sheets of material dangling down from the roof. It’s the kind of act that crosses all languages, all cultures, all classes, and can’t fail to entertain. Plus instead of a lean female athlete with barely any figure you have the splendid Miss Hofgartner, who is all woman. I wouldn’t normally comment or prize performers on the strength of their looks or sex appeal – but it’s different with Burlesque. An element of titillation is the name of the game.

Elliot MasonSecond was comedy singer and guitarist Elliot Mason, and this was the third time we’ve seen him at one of these shows. The first time we saw him I thought he was hilarious. The second time, which was six months later, he did precisely the same act and songs and I thought he was repetitious. Two years have passed since we last saw him and I am happy to recognise that he is essentially a very funny guy with a gift for making nonsense songs out of banal observations. I’m afraid Mrs Chrisparkle doesn’t quite get his sense of humour, but you can’t please all the people all the time. When he returned after the interval he sang his Identity Fraud song, which is a real crowd-pleaser.

Betty Blue EyesNext we met Miss Betty Blue Eyes, a Burlesque performer of real wit and style. She performed two routines during the course of the show and they were both inventive, sexy and funny. In the first half she did a wonderful reverse-strip, where less and less of her became visible each time she appeared to take something off; an extremely clever way of going about things. For Eurovision fans, it put me in mind of the 2002 winner Marija Naumova from Latvia and her routine to her song “I Wanna”, where she changes from man to woman during the course of the number (and when she did her winning reprise, changed back from woman to man). For non-Eurovision fans, I apologise for that diversion. Miss B-B-E’s second appearance was an homage to Liberace, which included, inter alia, an unlikely performance on a tiny piano and a very long, flexible keyboard. She’s precisely what makes Burlesque a unique form of entertainment.

Rod LaverOur next performer was Rod Laver, and what he can’t do with a ping-pong ball is nobody’s business. In fact, what he can’t do with five of them is even more appropriate. He has a marvellously lugubrious appearance, looking as though he might have escaped from a very elderly and traditional orchestra somewhere, which makes the ludicrousness of his variety act even more entertaining. It’s a very funny act and always goes down well with the audience, even if he did do precisely the same act two years ago. And again, when he returns in the second half, with the aforementioned Alexandra Hofgarner, they performed the same Weimar Republic style cabaret act that they did two years ago – but it’s refreshingly funny if you haven’t seen it before. A couple of Mr Laver’s tricks went wrong, however, which was worth it to see Miss Hofgartner’s reaction; a mere flicker of her eyes suggesting increased levels of passivity but with added condescension.

Immodesty BlaizeMore traditional Burlesque came our way in the form of Miss Immodesty Blaize, a stunningly attractive and award-winning performer who stripped her way through two classic routines. This was probably Burlesque at its purest – if that’s not a contradiction in terms – and perhaps what anyone new to Burlesque might expect from the evening. Each of our three Burlesque belles had their own unique contributions to make to the show. Miss Blue-Eyes has the inventiveness, Miss Hofgartner has the attitude; and Miss Blaize knows how to look good wearing (and not wearing) a seductive Flamenco outfit.

Pete FirmanTop of the bill was the brilliant magician Mr Pete Firman, whom we saw in the last Burlesque Show but also in his terrific Trickster show here a few months ago. He wowed us with his trick where he gets a £20 note from someone in the audience, does despicable things with it, yet somehow it reappears and no harm is done. Getting to that final point includes a bag of monkey nuts and a lot of cajoling the members of the audience he chooses to help him. A bit of an uphill struggle with the guys he chose – but that only inspires him to be funnier with his chat. I’ve absolutely no idea how he makes that trick work – it defies all the laws of empirical science that you would normally take for granted. I’m just going to have to keep watching.

Fantastic entertainment for grown-ups. Long may the Ministry continue to provide us with our annual Burlesque-fest!

Review – Pete Firman, Trickster, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 6th November 2014

TricksterI love magic. Deep down in my heart I know it’s not real, and that what Pete Firman was doing on that stage last night was simply being a Trickster (as the title of the show confirms), but wouldn’t it be great if it was genuine? If he was somehow an innocent conduit for things beyond our ken, who discovered that he had this gift to astound and surprise, but didn’t know how he was able to make these things happen? I want the world to be a place where magic truly exists. Mrs Chrisparkle, realist to her fingertips, looks on magic as a sub-genre of End of the Pier shows, or as just one element of a variety night on a cruise ship. How I managed to slip two tickets under her radar to see Mr Firman’s show, I’ve no idea. Years of practice I guess.

Actually, it was an easy no-brainer. We had seen Mr Firman before, as a guest in the most recent Burlesque Show at the Royal. Not just guest, he was top of the bill, and thoroughly excellent too. I’d expected his Trickster show to be part variety/revue and part magic, but no, it was just Mr Firman, his props, his ingenuity and his rapport with the audience that sustained the whole evening. There is a touch of the Eric Morecambe about him – you can catch it when he adopts that cheesy, toothy grin when he’s putting a brave face on something that isn’t quite quality; you can hear it in his vocal tones when being stagily mock-pompous about his skills. He is a naturally very funny and likeable guy, and, considering I normally quake at the thought of being picked on by a comic, if he’d invited me up on stage to help with a trick I’d have felt relaxed and at ease. He didn’t though, despite our being in Row C of the stalls. Swine.

Pete FThere was, however, lots of crowd participation throughout the course of the evening – I’d estimate that one in two of his tricks involved at least some element of an audience member getting up on stage with him or his coming down into the stalls to talk to people. That sense of involvement really helped the bond between audience and performer, making us one big happy family. Despite its not being a variety show, there is nevertheless a huge amount of variety within his act. Big scale, small scale; up close with a camera; mind reading, and then transferring the same thought to another person; even a trick outside the theatre (with which the whole the audience takes part), and another that took place over 25 years ago. For me though he had two particular corkers, the one that led into the interval and the one at the end. I could go into details about the tricks he performed but that would only spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it yet, and I wouldn’t do that to you, gentle reader, that wouldn’t be fair. So I’m going to be deliberately vague about exactly what happened.

Pete FirmanYou can sit there for hours and wonder, how did he do that? For the most part, “the way it’s done” is simply unguessable. Occasionally you think that if you’d somehow recorded it, and could play it back a few times, you’d be able to see the sleight of hand, the hidden prop, the way something appeared from off-stage. But that would ruin it, wouldn’t it? For the mind reading tricks, there has to be some form of mental suggestion technique involved, and we think we recognised a trigger action; not that that in any way explains exactly how the tricks were done. The “end of part one” trick involved Mr Firman getting a member of the audience to think of a number and then his guessing it, by means of a few pertinent questions and some elaborate statistics. It’s a delightful tour de force! I have a number in my head that I would always think of under such circumstances. It was the number of my locker at school, it would be the number of the box I would choose on Deal or No Deal if ever I was to appear on it (I won’t). It wasn’t the same number that our audience member chose. So if it had been me thinking of a number for Mr Firman to guess, I would have chosen that one, without question; and I just don’t see how the trick could succeed if it had been my number…But I guess that’s magic.

Pete FirmanSimilarly, that final trick left me having to collect my jaw from the floor. Unless the audience is full of stooges – and I don’t think that for a moment this is a magical version of One Man Two Guvnors – there’s only one possible way that trick could have been done; but I’m blowed if I can imagine how he physically managed to do it. If I wasn’t already returning to the Royal and Derngate this evening for another show, I’d be very tempted to see Mr Firman do the show again at the Corby Cube tonight just to firm up in my brain what I actually saw last night. It would be fascinating to observe what’s different between the performances, and even more so to see what isn’t.

A thoroughly enjoyable night’s entertainment that wowed even the cynical Mrs C and left me gobsmacked with mystery. If you love a bit of magic, he’s your man! Go see for yourself.

Review – The Burlesque Show, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 18th January 2014

Sammy Mavis JuniorThe 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.

Beau RocksBurlesque 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.

Luna RosaIf 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.

Glorian GrayThere 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.

Rod LaverAs 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.

Rod Laver and Alexandra HofgartnerFor 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.

The Great VoltiniAnd 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.

Pete FirmanIt’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!