There are few more fitting surroundings than a 1920s-style Spiegeltent on London’s South Bank on a summer’s night for an evening of burlesque. Whether sat in the booths around the circumference of the venue or in the stalls, the mirror-lined big top is a perfect place to drink House Of Burlesque in.
Unfortunately the opening number, performed to a harpsichord version of Cindy Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by four dancers who serve as our ensemble cast for the evening, disappoints. If rococo costumes are to be seen in burlesque, they must be done properly. Cheap wigs and stockings from a dress-up shop do little to help choreography which really needs another cleaning rehearsal before it’s seen onstage, and frankly there should be less batting each other with those flimsy fans.
Tempest Rose saves it. She has a husky but powerful voice and knows how to handle a refreshingly belty version of Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit. After leading us through a burlesque prayer incorporating the immortal line “as we forgive those who call us strippers”, she doesn’t miss a beat: on being heckled that she never said “amen”, she purrs the retort “well that’s because I always preferred ‘A-women’”.
Seeing her attempt a slink across stage with one heel on, one in hand is pure gold. She hits the mark perfectly as our host with a shtick involving forcing men to help her offstage. Later, she remarks – when one audience member happily exclaims she’s celebrating her 21st birthday that night – that what she’s about to hear is the distinct sound of nausea permeating the room.
Lena Mae, clad in red, is an energetic performer but needs to work on her core strength if she’s to thrash around so and avoid leaving us with the unsettling notion she’s going to topple over. Lolo Brow, famed for her Burlesque Shuffle routine, is in a different class entirely and one of the two gems of this evening. Her Cassetteboy-esque Nigella Lawson mash-up is one for the archives. She is the thinking man or woman’s burlesque artiste with a dynamic, strong aesthetic and a physique worthy of high praise. What she does with some seriously unsexy foods (clam flesh with mash, anyone?) ought to be more highly lauded than it probably will be.
In the second act, our four-strong ensemble redeem themselves with an infra-red lit tight isolation sequence flanking a competent and hyper-mobile hula hoop performance by petite powerhouse Storm Hooper. Jo Foley also excites with a solid silks act, involving some impressive drops.
Bettsie Bon Bon ensures a broad spectrum of burlesque is covered here. She is film noir, she is feathered, she is a Botticellian beauty in black and emerald and she means to take charge. The second star of tonight’s varied show is Esquire de Lune, the only male act of the evening, but oh what a male. He is Michelangelo’s David, had David ever grown wings only to have them cruelly shorn off. Shimmering, clad in leather and nestled between feathered fans which he manipulates exquisitely (ladies of the ensemble, take note!) the image is of a brooding, melancholy angel who is altogether too beautiful to be trapped in this mortal world. The evening is wrapped up by another lengthy and less than explosive ensemble number by way of a finale.
As mentioned, there are some gems and some paste showcased here, but the glue and setting in the form of House of Burlesque’s Tempest Rose should never be undervalued. It is also worth noting that the playing time here is longer than the 70 minutes billed, and that the show incorporates a 15 minute interval.
House of Burlesque. Produced by Tempest Rose. London Wonderground, London SE1 8XX. 12 June. £14-£20.50. www.londonwonderground.co.uk
House of Burlesque continues in August and September. For full date and ticket information, check out our Ultimate Guide To The London Wonderground.