This Is Cabaret Rating: ★★★★☆
Those who ventured to London Wonderground’s South Bank Spiegeltent last year to sample Tempest Rose and her House of Burlesque may be slightly perturbed that in this year’s offering, very few of her original cast members have changed. Fear not. Whether or not you’ve previously been a guest at the House before, you haven’t seen it like this. They’ve been working on things.
Apart from hula-hoop artist Storm Hooper‘s opening act which, whilst impressive, doesn’t assimilate with the theme of the evening so is presented as a sort of amuse-bouche, everything has changed. The new show Straight Up explores and celebrates one thing: the demon drink.
It is of course the perfect pairing for a night of burlesque. From the moment Tempest Rose steps to the stage, a half glass of claret precariously yet exquisitely nestled amongst her raven locks, you realise this year is a good vintage. Like a cool glass of Moscato on a hot day, it’s deliciously refreshing. Tempest Rose can sing. Her opening remark of “like that half drunk bottle of ouzo you down before a night out, I’m just here to get you pumped!’ belies her true talent, charisma and warmth. She is possibly the best mistress of ceremonies in burlesque today. At any rate, she has the best voice by a considerable margin.
The two newbies of the evening, RiRi Caboose and Ooh La Lou get the evening started. Ms Caboose compellingly dances to Tequila, and just as her hips are the work of a showgirl, her face is the charming naïveté of a ballet student. Ooh La Lou has the muscular definition of a physique model, something of a rarity in burlesque. She is a petite powerhouse who attacks her brief but impressive striptease and later angle-grinds. One has absolutely no doubt her derrière could crack shot glasses.
Two performers this evening are of a different class entirely. This isn’t to belittle their talented colleagues, nor will it come as a surprise to anyone familiar with their work. They’re just that good. They’re also the same two artists as last year. Unlike last year however, tonight they both perform reverse striptease acts. Esquire de Lune steps glistening out of the shower (aboard his pleasure boat in St. Bart’s perhaps? Oh, to be one of the bevy of Bond girls waiting on deck for him!) and proceeds to dress, even as one wishes he wouldn’t. He smoulders. He quotes Charles Bukowski, the writer notoriously fond of alcohol. He is beautiful.
Lolo Brow arrives revered and noted as the thinking man’s burlesque artist but gives all the appearance of not doing quite so well. In fact, she’s got a raging hangover. Oh, and a show in 40 minutes. And penile graffiti on her back. She quotes from Withnail and I and School of Rock, showing that same pigheaded resilience that somehow gets her suited, booted and ready for her big moment in the spotlight on time. Sublime.
The evening is costumed to perfection. An ensemble number to The Dropkick Murphys is a particular highlight, with ladies corseted and sculpted as Day of the Dead-style rum-fuelled skeletons revelling in an energetic knees-up. And then a lady sticks scissors up her nose whilst Tempest Rose sits on a masked woman’s stomach, contorted into a bridge. It’s like something Dalí would’ve painted on absinthe. Jo Foley‘s aerial hoop solo makes great use of the Spiegeltent and is a grand, champagne-kissed spectacle.
It isn’t all good. There are two direct homages to Parisian cabaret and institution Le Crazy Horse. One is successful, the other emphatically less so. The bad news: Tempest Rose sings the somber, music-box version of Toxic beautifully, but Philippe Decouflé’s Upside Down (which House of Burlesque clearly seeks to recreate here) is a choreographic masterpiece. It is central to every Crazy Horse production worldwide. Without Decouflé’s painstakingly, achingly beautiful choreography and the lights and mirrors that literally make it a Crazy Horse phenomenon, the two dancers here haven’t a hope.
There is good news, though. Little Mix sang a song called Salute a while back, a lyric lending itself to the gesture that typifies the opening number God Save Our Bareskin! at the Crazy. A Coldstream Guard/Beefeater mash-up, especially when you consider that Beefeater Gin is one of the show’s sponsors, is therefore well-played. The clever, boozy theme of Straight Up together with the extensive thought gone into costuming has elevated House of Burlesque to new heights here. Tempest Rose deserves praise not just for her warm performance, but for staying true to morals which permeate the heady atmosphere. She celebrates strong, thinking women and men in burlesque, even tearing up an “Are We Beach-Body Ready?” sign onstage. Bravo.
House of Burlesque returns to the London Wonderground’s Spiegeltent on 23 July and every Thursday thereafter until 24 September (except 30 July, 10 September and 17 September). See the London Wonderground website for more information.