Part of This Is Cabaret's coverage of the 2012 Edinburgh Festival FringeJudging by the line of people waiting to see Bordello Blues at most of its dates, demand for burlesque is still as high nowadays as during the peak of its hype last year. Judging by the insipid garbage that follows once all the seats are taken, the B-word is still a trend eagerly milked by clueless bandwagon-jumpers. If you haven’t had your fill of chalky-voiced Piaf wannabes whispering obvious hits from the pre-war cabaret and vintage jazz songbooks, Nikki Nouveau’s droning hour of musical cliché is for you. But be advised: there’s a lot less burlesque in it than its publicity suggests.

Most performers putting on airs announce their mediocrity with loud bravado, but this turkey manages to be pretentious and lifeless at the same time. When not moaning plastic versions of Ne Me Quitte Pas or Falling in Love Again, Nouveau protagonises a vague story attempt advanced by voiceover letters. In French, mostly. In the show’s defence, you probably don’t need to follow the text in order to find out whether the hooker’s client will fulfil his vows of love. If you do, you might actually enjoy this.


Nikki Nouveau sings and acts in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut of Bordello Blues

Damien Grima and Simonne Smiles (from the Sydney Dance Company) make a cameo in two choreographic routines: the show opener – a dull, predictable tango – and a short ballet with athletic balancing feats thrown in. The latter is briefly captivating, but ultimately ruined by the dancers’ constant efforts not to fall off the stage or hit the ceiling lights repeatedly. The narrow raised bandstand at SpaceCabaret can barely hold a trio of musicians. Cluttered by a dressing table, a chaise longue and a folding screen, it’s a miracle they don’t perform the whole piece among the tables.

The closest thing you’ll get to burlesque here is Nouveau’s closing number, a cursory fan dance with all the flair and vigour of a flight attendant’s safety instructions, striking poses as if for a camera. Before that, the singer picks a volunteer from the public to sit still by the screen while she changes costumes behind it. When people complain that audience participation often results in spectators looking embarrassed, not knowing what to do, this is what they have in mind.

Underlying this random debacle is that same innocuous pout-and-squint sensuality repeated to death in lingerie commercials and fashion magazines. The myriad gimmicks of Bordello Blues may be trite and tame, but let no one accuse them of lacking a consistent tone.

Bordello Blues. Performed by Nikki Nouveau. SpaceCabaret @ 54, Edinburgh EH1 2HE (Venue 54). 7-11 August, 21:05. £8-10 (£6.50-7.50).


Photos courtesy of the artist