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 – The Burlesque Show, Royal, Northampton, 14th January 2012

Sarah Louise YoungSix months after the Ministry of Burlesque’s first Burlesque Show at the Royal, we welcome another show of variety acts with added titillation. Our compere this time was Sarah Louise Young, one third of the current Fascinating Aida line-up and she was full of cheekiness, flair and humour. She had great interaction with the crowd including three girls she named Sister Sledge in the box, Colin in Row C and the missing Trevor, more of which later. She had some terrific songs included her suggestion for the UK’s next Eurovision song, which was all about miserable children living in poverty, and the chorus went “but we don’t care, do we”. She hit the perfect level of total bad behaviour whilst appearing completely proper.

Elle AmourThe first of our three Burlesque teasers, all of whom appeared last time, was Elle Amour, who went a little crazy for some cream cakes. She wrapped up the evening later on with another routine, although she herself was not very wrapped up by the end of it. A charming young lady.Kittie Klaw The second was Miss Kittie Klaw. Last time she was forced to undress to rid her clothes of a surprisingly large number of spiders lurking therein. This time she was dressed in a sailor’s suit and danced the hornpipe, inter alia. Mia MerodeThe third was Mia Merode, whom we saw last time under a different name (see, I did some research.) I have to commend her for remarkable fan work and ability to rotate tassels in different directions. Mrs Chrisparkle kindly took notes for future reference.

Delores DelightMusical entertainment came from Delores Delight, who I also remember from last time. In the second half she had gave a couple of gutsy performances of show stopping numbers and she really does have a great voice! The other musical performer was Elliot Mason. Elliot MasonHe has extremely funny songs about unlikely subjects such as corporate rebranding and mistaken identity, but unfortunately, he sang almost exactly the same songs in the show six months ago, so we found it more nostalgic than riotous. But he’s great at involving the audience making silly accompaniment noises and he went down very well with the crowd.

Paul ZenonPaul Zenon was back again, a brilliant magician with funny attacking patter. He did some good baffling tricks, which I loved, but then I am a sucker for magic. It was during his act that something rather odd happened – the Northampton audience became a little anarchic. Mr Zenon approached a guy in row B to come up and join him for a trick. “What was his name”, he asked. “Gary”, he replied. Within a few seconds the call of “Gary! Gary!” went around the theatre, to the total astonishment of Paul Zenon. Gary seemed to take it in his stride. “Friends of yours?”, asked PZ. “No”, Gary mildly replied. The vocal Mexican wave of “Gary, Gary” went around again. Slightly nonplussed, PZ continued and got Gary to pick a card from the pack, and show it to the audience. “Ten of Spades” shouted out someone from the back, to the huge guffaw of the crowd and the blinking incomprehension of Mr Zenon. “You’re not meant to do that!” he responded, and I felt he was beginning to get slightly irked. It wasn’t the ten of spades; but I don’t think at that point of the trick Mr Z knew that. In the end it was the ten of hearts and a jolly clever trick. But I think Mr Zenon would be the first to accept that overall it was a score draw between him and the audience.

Audacity ChutzpahOnly two acts were new to me, and they were both fantastic. The first was the brilliantly named Audacity Chutzpah, who appeared in the first half as She-Ra, Princess of Power, where she appeared to grow limbs from under her cloak; and in the second half as a Cos Lettuce eating faun who coquettishly approached members of the audience before flinging limp salad leaves around to the tune of Alexander Rybak’s Fairytale. She’s a perfect clown and made me laugh hysterically.

ElanThe other was Elan, a stalwart of the Crazy Horse in Paris apparently, and another fabulous physical comedian, in the George Carl tradition. He uses the suitcase prop superbly – it really has a life of its own; he takes on completely different appearance with a mask, and goes totally berserk bodypopping. Not a word is spoken; a wonderful act.

There was barely an empty seat in the house – even the upper circle was full, and both boxes. One of the boxes only had two people in it. Trevor couldn’t come, apparently, which was the cause of much sorrow. “We love you Trevor” came a disembodied voice from the balcony, continuing the rather weird anarchy of the evening. At one point, a note fluttered down from the balcony on to the stage. Sarah Louise Young picked it up and read it – it was Trevor’s phone number. Thus, with the use of an iPhone, and much embarrassment to his friends, Trevor, ill at home, was still able to hear the final number before the curtain came down. Isn’t technology wonderful? The Burlesque Show certainly is – a thoroughly entertaining and constantly inventive variety show. Highly recommended.

Review – The Burlesque Show, Royal, Northampton, 3rd July 2011

This was a complete leap into the Unknown. What would “The Burlesque Show” involve? The theatre’s website promised us a top magician and an exotic dancer. Well we certainly got them, and a whole lot more. So what is Burlesque? Well, from having seen just one evening’s entertainment, it’s largely old-fashioned variety with some titillation thrown in for good measure. But it also seems to have some retro style, and judging from the audience, seems to appeal to women more than men. Doing a bit of online research it looks like it’s a growing cult entertainment, with a considerable following. Well it’s never crossed my path before, but then I have led a sheltered life.

Kiki KaboomAnyway the good burghers of Northampton know their Burlesque as the Royal was packed again and the audience were in an extremely good mood! Our hostess was Kiki Kaboom (it didn’t take me long to realise some of these performers work under a Nom-de-Burlesque). She is a bright funny lady who got us warmed up with her rendition of “I’m a little girl from Maidstone”. She had great interaction with the audience and kept the whole evening going at a good pace and with an endearing warmth.

Elle AmourOne aspect of a burlesque evening seems to be that you get attractive young ladies taking the majority (but not all) of their clothes off. Far be it from me to judge which of Elle Amour, Kittie Klaw and Dani California did it best; but they were all entertaining, stylish, and performed with coquettish humour. Kittie KlawI particularly enjoyed La Klaw’s battle against a seemingly endless supply of spiders nestling about her body, which (of course) required the removal of clothing to get rid of them. Dani CaliforniaElle Amour did two routines, the second of which was particularly edifying as it involved quite a lot of bottom shaking. The interesting thing was how the whole thing really was done “in the best possible taste”.

Mat RicardoIt wasn’t all titillation though. There were some really funny and entertaining variety acts too. For example, we had Mat Ricardo. He’s a juggler – incredibly skilful, with very funny patter, a likeable personality; and he did two routines, both of which were ace.

Elliot MasonThen there was Elliot Mason, a singer of comedy songs about the most unlikely subjects. Two of his really funny songs were about corporate rebranding and the delight in finding sufficient washing up liquid left on the sponge in order to wash the cup that was left out of the dishwasher. He has a great attacking style and involves the audience so that it’s impossible to resist singing along with his ridiculous songs, even though you can’t. Great fun.

Dolores DelightWe had the singer, Dolores Delight, who really came into her own with her second half number, Moon River, performed alongside the most massive balloon you’ve ever seen (hot air balloons excluded). The balloon took on the appearance of the moon and it was a really charming performance.

Fancy ChanceYou couldn’t get more different from Dolores to Fancy Chance, who had two thoroughly memorable routines. In the first half she did a perfect parody of Prince (the “Squiggle” singer), in what I guess is the absolute true spirit of Burlesque. It was amazingly funny. Her second half performance was an homage to North Korea, which quite simply involved a bit of everything. It was just extraordinary!

Paul ZenonTop of the bill – in a sense – was the magician Paul Zenon, who did two excellent tricks; one which Mrs Chrisparkle says she has seen before (I don’t know who she was with because it was new to me), where he spun a full pint of Newcastle Brown around and around while it was perched inside a snooker triangle. Fantastic stuff. Even more effective was another routine where he invited a gentleman up from the audience who was wearing a smart jacket, got him to remove said jacket, whence he proceeded to stab a hole in the back of the jacket and pull endless bits of lining out of the hole he had made, right in front of the poor jacket owner’s nose, then only to present the jacket back unharmed. We spoke to the jacket’s owner on the way out – he said that although he was within inches of the trick being performed he had no idea how Paul Zenon had done it.

Jim DevereauxOne final act was Jim Devereaux; he starts off being a stagehand and ends up being an Elvis impersonator. He was brilliant! I’m not a great Elvis fan but he did his very best songs and it worked extremely well. Would you believe he is the grandson of Ed Devereaux of Skippy fame? Now there’s quality.

This is not in any way meant as a pejorative comment – quite the reverse – but I found the entire show to be the absolutely best “End of the Pier” night you could possibly imagine; or alternatively, the tip-top in cruise entertainment. If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship and seen really really good variety, you’ll appreciate just how excellent this show was.

The only thing that slightly confused me was the advisory age restriction notices placed outside the theatre. Not recommended for the under 16s. 16??? All you saw was one nipple and even that was due to a wardrobe misfunction. The language was milder than most other comedy acts we have seen. By contrast, when I was 13 I saw “Birds of Paradise” at the Garrick Theatre, where Miss Moira Lister was in charge of five rather lovely young working girls, who went topless for the majority of the second act. No one raised an eyebrow at the sight of a 13-year-old in the front row. The only raising was done by the 13-year-old in question. I do feel the age restriction for the Burlesque Show was misplaced and unnecessary.

Nevertheless, it was a really terrific night’s entertainment, which went down a complete storm with the audience. I definitely hope this becomes a regular feature; the Royal is the perfect environment for this sophisticated variety show.