Last night my boyfriend and I went to see the wonderfully entertaining (and occasionally outrageous) Hurly Burly Show. Although this was my idea, having never been to a burlesque show before I didn’t know what to expect and was a little apprehensive. My apprehension was aided in part by the train we caught, which took just too long to get into London, causing us to run like morons to the tube station (my heels clattering away like gunfire on the slippery floor) and out again hoping to god I had remembered correctly where the Garrick Theatre was.
We had just enough time to purchase the alcoholic beverage necessary after a stressful journey and sat down with literally a minute to spare. As in, we toasted our impressive legging-it-across-London and the lights went down.
As you can imagine, my apprehension was short-lived and pointless – for the simple reason that I had forgotten how integral comedy is to burlesque. As Miss Polly Rae herself says (somewhat paraphrased by me) “it’s not about the tits, it’s the eyes” i.e. the attitude. The show was – obviously – of a sexual nature, but it was funny, it sent itself up by placing the sex in the midst of something completely different; the French Revolution for example (“Let them eat cock!”, indeed). The show was less about the strip, more about the tease – including the laughter that can go along with it. Discussing this with my partner in crime, I detected only slight disappointment at the revelation that the show was not as ‘sexualised’ as expected. Instead, it was bloody hilarious. And therefore incredibly entertaining. Later on, walking home, we decided that it had been a lot like actual ‘sexual things’ are – good fun, sexy and funny.
And that was kind of the beauty of it. As you can see from the reviews, the Hurly Burly Show has been described as a ‘celebration of the female form’ – which now I’ve seen, I believe. One memorable moment was a number in which Miss Polly Rae had the (willing) audience members stand up and shimmy or gyrate, calling out “this is what burlesque is all about!”. It was very clear that burlesque is not just for the girls on stage (all of whom were different in shape, size, colour – although all remarkably talented), but for any woman or man who wants to take part in the great tease. The emphasis was on inclusion, the audience were constantly being addressed, be it through winks and exaggerated nudges or direct address to individuals themselves. I, and I’d like to think all of us there, felt included in the joke and that we were taking part now and – godammit! – could take part at home whenever we liked.
This is something I have to say I feel lacking in a lot of celebrity culture. While we have shows like The X Factor and American Idol suggesting that Joe Public can take part in the fame game and showcase his or her talent, that’s not really what these things are about. They emphasis eccentricity and individuality, sure, but the majority of the time the only showcasing of such uniqueness is the light relief in each show, the “comedy gold” of some overweight no-hoper screeching her heart out and truly believing she sounds like Christina Aguilera. We laugh at these people, and we idolise the special ones, the winners – for they have been touched and gilted by God and Simon Cowell and we lowly audience members can only marvel at their talent. They were that one in a million lucky enough to have been discovered and rescued from where the rest of us reside – reality.
Burlesque isn’t like that. There was something there we could all take home, we could all join in with. There wasn’t any idolisation of the women on stage as remarkable specimens that we could all aspire to if only we were all a six 6 or 8 with a history of dancing lessons since the age of 3. Because I’m under no illusion that the women there weren’t special, weren’t talented – they were amazing! But they makde us feel included, and special too, and that was the real celebration. We were in on the joke, not just to laugh at the non-achievers, but to identify with the success stories.
Having got on my soapbox, I want to take things down few notches and share with you some of the other more memorable parts of the evening:
- performer Kitty Bang Bang emerging from a wheelie bin almost nude to dance en pointe and eat fire at the same time before setting alight her nipple tassles. The mind boggles. A very hard act to follow. All set to my new-favourite-song “If You Don’t Want to Fuck Me, Baby, Fuck Off” – why won’t itunes let me buy it?
- Mother Superior Miss Polly Rae wearing a glittery wimple singing about sin while stripping and spanking the other Hurly Burly girls. Especially memorable as this was an Easter Sunday performance. Family entertainment.
- A bourgeoise-perspective, French Revolution-inspired striptease incorporating Lady Gaga, beheadings and the classic song “Rock Me Amadeus” which more or less had me in stitches.
And with that, wordpress tells me I have reached over 800 words. Enough is enough. Moral of the story: I love burlesque for its potential to make anyone feel special, in spite of first appearances. And I want to wear everything in the show. Just once.
PS. Incase you wanted to read a more comprehensive and less “profound” review, please go here.
- Teeth, tits and tease at the Hurly Burly Show (punjapit.wordpress.com)
- The Hurly Burly Show, Garrick theatre, review (telegraph.co.uk)