It’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.
Having 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.
All 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.
We 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.
Then 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.
Next 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.
Once 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.
We 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!
Our 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.
Thus 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!