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!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2016 – Lili La Scala: Another F*cking Variety Show, 26th August 2016

LiliOur final show of the day – and only four shows today because we’ve also been catching up with old friends we haven’t seen in decades – is back to the world of burlesque and cabaret with Lili La Scala’s Another F*cking Variety Show. It’s on at Queen Dome @ Pleasance Dome, Potterrow, at 23:00 on Friday 26th. Here’s the blurb: “Mistress of ceremonies Lili La Scala and her most beloved cabaret reprobates entertain you at this rollicking late-night show. With sell-out runs at the Fringe since 2012, guests are treated to the very best on the international cabaret, burlesque and comedy circuit. This cabaret spectacular will warm the heart and boggle the mind; previous guests include comedian Jason Manford, The Boy With Tape On His Face and burlesque starlet Vicky Butterfly to name but a few. Come and feast your eyes upon a veritable variety smorgasbord: comedy, magic, burlesque, music and more.”

Lili La SI do like this review of Miss La Scala: ‘Lili La Scala has the voice of Vera Lynn and the figure of Jessica Rabbit’. I expect the show will be one of those late night, slightly different each night, compilation shows where a variety of performers will come on, do their bit, and then move on. Hopefully we’ll get an excellent selection! Check back around 1am to see if it was a good line-up, and by then the preview blog for Saturday’s first show should be available to read too.

Post-show update:

LiliThat was about as much fun as an Edinburgh show can be! Lili is a wonderful hostess with the mostest, looks gorgeous and has a fantastic singing voice. She did a brilliant version of Space Oddity that I found really moving. But the acts that made up the show were just sensational! Zach and Viggo were a hilariously goofy magic act; a song from Jai McDowall and he was ace; two fantastic tap dancers, The Tap Pack; a surreally hilarious comic, Lords of StrutTom Walker; Kai Hoffman got me up on stage and made me kneel in front of her – I won’t tell you the rest but I could scarcely breathe for five minutes – and we ended up with the hilarious Lords of Strut, with a routine that involved us pelting Christ with bread and had one of the guys passing himself through a tiny hoop clad only in a clingfilm mankini. You had to be there. Absolutely brilliant!