Burlesque at Brighton Festival May 2005

Feature in Issue 17-3 | Autumn 2005

The burlesque boom has always been strongly rooted in Brighton – what with Vavavavoom, Voodoo Vaudeville, Lost Vagueness et al. The arrival of the Famous Spiegeltent brought on opportunity for even more variety (in both senses) than usual – with festival specials adding to the regular nights at venues like Komedia.

Not to be outdone, Komedia hosted a few specials at the home base including Pin Ups Unpinned, which featured the Gresque troupe – an all female all-dancing comedy burlesque outfit whose deliciously kitsch routines include stripping housewives, stripping moustachioed commuters and stripping, well, you name it. They’re bold, they’re brash, they’re beautiful and they’ll use any excuse to get down to the red pvc panties. It would seem the few interspersed other acts (which included Miss Heidi Heels, who fed the audience cake, and the Perverted Turtles racy Handbags at Dawn cat-fight) complemented the girls well – the only complaint being that the evening was let down a little by the jazz combo Drei who played overlong sets and should know better than to attempt Peggy Lee medleys. But it was great to have an all-woman bill, avoiding the usual burlesque divide of male musician / female dancer, male comic / female showgirl.

Are you or have you ever been a member of The People Show? The Spiegel-tented People Show All Stars was an early evening event that brought together an eclectic mix of folks from past, present and (we presume) future Shows, all doing their party pieces. Even before it all started, you could tell irony was high on the agenda, with the promise of acts like Bunny Girls of the Apocalypse and Lady Jaunita’s transsexual puppet striptease – this latter saw the lovely Juanita brought right down to her bare-wood essentials, a true grotesque. The acts were all good fun (in a strictly postmodern tongue-in-cheek sort of way), but the compere was weak and the energy slipped and dragged occasionally. When the evening’s headliners, John Hegley and Andrew Bailey, come on the ante was well and truly upped – Bailey’s dementedly cathartic gurning-and-howling portrayal of Medusa; Hegley’s loopy poems – a good time was had by all, despite the rather odd feeling of being decadent in daylight.

Also at the Spiegeltent was La Clique – which was the hot ticket at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and similarly took Brighton Festival by storm. Its runaway success is due to an unbeatable combination of the best quality acts, a great sense of pace and flow, and the producers’ willingness to always leave us begging for a little more as we ricochet from silky voiced cabaret chanteuse to luscious red-headed trapeze artiste to ultra-camp boy acrobats. These last are The Caesar Twins, blond bombshells who describe themselves as double trouble, here seen snaking up ropes and trading back flips with muscular ease, their finale a re-enactment of Jaws in a water tank. Ursula Martinez’s striptease-cum-magic act gives a new twist to the disappearing hankie conundrum, and Miss Behave takes the cake for her superbly skilled sword-swallowing played with an I Love Lucy female comedienne vibe. Guest artist Paul Zenon looked around and wondered whet he was doing here: ‘a magic act in the round, with the audience close up, and in a tent lined with mirrors’, before somehow pulling off the famous spinning beer trick. Superb, no postmodern pussyfooting here: La Clique is hard-core sassy and slick contemporary Burlesque at its best.

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Issue 17-3
p. 26