Review by Soozi Chameleone
Photography by Jo Moolenschot
19th May 2015
Here we are at the beautiful Conway Hall for the ‘Hollywood ‘Revue’ portion of this year’s glorious London Burlesque Festival. Showcasing the best of the sparkling best (breast?) in Burlesque today and featuring award winning performers from around the world, the LBF and the events that form it pull huge audiences, with most shows selling out, and fast. On this pleasant Tuesday evening, the wine is flowing, feathers are positively ruffled and the excited buzz in the atmosphere is palpable.
Our compere for the evening is faux Eastern European pocket rocket, Natalia Kalashnikov (who is actually from Liverpool but dons a faint Russian accent for comic effect). Looking fabulous in an oversized feather head dress and champagne coloured Basque and hotpants to match, Natalia unashamedly makes STI related jokes (grading levels of applause/ clapping and managing to seamlessly make a reference to ‘the clap’), has no shame in attempting to insult the audience and is basically everything you want from a compere. With an exuberant rub of the giant genie lamp sitting on the stage behind her, she introduces the first act of the night, the gorgeous Jeanie Wishes.
Cavorting to a mash up of ‘Arabian Nights’ and ‘Never Had a Friend Like Me’ from Disney’s Aladdin, Jeanie snakes her way out of the lamp with grace and seduction, managing to make those Harem pants, miniature waistcoat and fez surprisingly appealing. Using the entirety of the large stage to her advantage and demonstrating her eclectic dancing skills, Jeanie has us captivated from start to finish.
Natalia decides to delve into the audience and hand picks a poor man named Trevor for some light embarrassment. After probing him a little, she seemingly grows tired of that and reveals a drinking problem she discovered when supposedly performing with the Moscow State Circus, ensuring her story telling is further enhanced by the hilarious spectacle of her clambering off and then back on to the stage again, placing her in not-so-flattering positions!
Hailing from Bordeaux, our next act Betty Crispy shuffles on stage resembling silent movie star Charlie Chaplin and, as the act progresses and her suit is shed, the transforms into Josephine Baker, another big name in the world of silent movies. It is an innovative and well thought out routine with plenty of cheekiness, character and absolute charm. The energy is palpable, music choices perfect and the calibre of dancing cannot be faulted.
Now, Jessica Rabbit is an extremely well known and often impersonated character-come-sex-siren . It is a routine that seems easy to pull off but is definitely harder than it looks to get the right balance of flawlessness, gravity defying curves and effortless, smouldering appeal and nonchalance. Trinity Techtrix makes a good attempt at embodying these elements during her ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’ routine (minus the trademark bouncy red hair of Miss Rabbit) but doesn’t quite do it justice. Which is a shame, because she sings the song beautifully, and her subsequent striptease is deliciously thrilling, but a certain je ne sais quoi is missing from the classic scene from ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’.
Next up it’s Ruby Schatzi‘s turn to dazzle us, and she does a damn fine job of it. During her cheeky Detective themed act, she uses a male ‘assistant’ to play the role of her perpetrator who needs to be thoroughly patted down for any ‘concealed weapons’ perhaps? Dressed in a suave black suit topped off with a cane and bowler hat, which is gradually peeled off to reveal a pink and silver, tassle-tastic flapper dress, Ruby demonstrates superior dance skills with a routine that is graceful, fluid, striking and even features the splits! A first class performer.
The quality of performance is maintained by London’s very own Isabella Bliss, the blonde bombshell with unlimited charm and sparkle. She graces the stage in a perfect version of the classic ‘At the Races’ dress worn by Audrey Hepburn when she starred as Eliza Doolittle in ‘My Fair Lady’. Complete with matching floppy hat and parasols, which she uses here and there to delicately poise herself and pose with, Isabella wafts across the stage with all the elegance of Hepburn herself. Even her ultra glittery corset and bra match the white and blue dress and absolutely maintain the same level of class and beauty that the full length dress exuded. Isabelle manages to blend womanly sexiness and feminine beauty to produce a thoroughly enjoyable performance.
Sandwiching the Interval we are treated to two fantastic routines by male performers, Lord Ritz and Master Cameron Eric Leon. Ritz gets us all hot and bothered, quite literally, with his Bert the Chimney sweep (Van Dyke’s loveable character in Mary Poppins) themed fire poi act (I see what you did there), which he performs once he has removed the top half of his sooted outfit. Bare flesh and fire, how could that not get you excited? Master Cameron treats us to a musical theatre inspired vocal performance which is faultless, charming and actually quite moving as well; not something one would expect to see featured in a burlesque show, that’s for sure. Something else that no doubt took all of us by surprise was the sudden whipping off of the Lord’s trousers at the very end of his warbling, to reveal some not-exactly-attractive, black Y fronts! Well at least it added an ingenious and surprising essence of humour. Bravo, good sirs, bravo.
Awesome Aussie Sugar Due Hours takes to the stage next in all her voluptuous glory. Our delightful compere Miss Kalashnikov introduces the act as entitled, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Jubblies’, and it couldn’t be a more appropriate title; Clad in a skimpy cowgirl outfit complete with appropriate hat and boots, Sugar uses the power of her ‘sugar’ so to speak, to ‘shoot’ a fellow cowgirl enemy (in the shape of a willing assistant who swaggers onstage to square up to her, only to be ‘shot down’ by Sugar’s boob-guns that she jiggles violently from side to side to slay her enemy, complete with sound effects worked into the accompanying music) and is quite rightly presented with raucous laughing, whoops, cheers and applause from her audience.
Natasha warns the audience that we had better find someone to hide behind for Southern American Oceana Pearl’s performance, and the warning is warranted because Bethany does a bloody good job of giving us all the creeps with her mash up routine of all things horror. Clad in an orange jumpsuit, Jason Vorhees-esque hockey mask and haunting the stage to the Exorcist theme tune whilst wielding a chainsaw, she confuses the senses by simultaneously making us want to get the hell away from her but also never take our eyes off her. The jumpsuit is slithered out of to reveal a simple outfit of black latex bra, panties and stockings, which she peels off whilst laying on her back and bending her legs towards her. The simple yet effective act of leaving her mask on until the very end is very powerful as, despite being very nearly naked, without being able to see her face still gives a sense of sensual concealment and once it is removed, the audience erupts. A very clever act indeed.
Curvaceous Canadian Betty Quirk successfully maintains the creepy vibe with her Silence of the Lambs- inspired routine, although the fact that she has selected Nelly Furtado’s ‘Maneater’ to sashay to, definitely takes the edge off and gives it all a very tongue-in-cheek feel. Once she has managed to wriggle herself out of her strait jacket, Betty reveals a bright orange Basque and matching fishtail skirt, which successfully allures us and keeps are eyes fixated on her beautifully flirtatious (yet still slightly creepy due to that bloody mask she is wearing) routine. She is an effortless and skilled performer who clearly thinks outside of the box to titillate and tease her audience.
Pocket sized Visha Loo bounds on to the stage in an adorable Mogwai (Gremlins) onsie, with an equally endearing grin plastered on her face. Her energy is insatiable, mind-bending flexibility impressive and overall routine one of the best of the evening. She whips off her onsie to reveal what has to be one of the best attempts at making a Gremlin costume look sexy; a green and silver latex bodysuit complete with furry ears. It is easy to understand why she is a latex model as well! Taking music from The Gremlins’ OST, Visha Loo springs, twists and bends her way through a wonderfully fun and exciting routine with a superior level of skill and bucket loads of charisma and ability to truly engage an audience.
Finishing off this delightful evening is Belle Bethany Summersizzle with her 80’s icon Elvira- themed performance. Dancing to ‘Trouble’ (“if you’re looking for trouble, here I am”- perfect song choice!) and in Elvira’s classic, figure hugging, floor length black dress (as well as being slashed to the navel to reveal a couple of Elvira’s greatest, erm, assets), Oceana maintains an alluring grin throughout her writhing, temptress- eqsue routine. The tone of her performance paired with her beautiful stage presence and dancing finesse finish off the evening perfectly.
Several dozen bottles of wine and plenty of throat- wrenching whoops and cheers later, and our trip through Hollywood throughout history has come to an end. Final bows are taken and the curtain falls on yet another fantastic night of the LBF 2015.