If you’re ready to leave your superego at the door, you’re ready for Sleaze. Produced by freakish crooner Mat Fraser and burlesque dancer Trixie Malicious, the raunchy revue is a lowbrow cornucopia of sensational kicks. Acts can go from silly and tacky to downright filthy, unfettered by the faintest notions of propriety. This is the skid row of variety, and quite proud of it.
Sleaze is billed as a New York-style burlesque show, which translates as provocative gibes and kinky bump-and-grinding performed at very close quarters. The narrow interiors of the Lockside Lounge in Camden mean that the 30 people nearest to the low stage are in for intensive participation as artists come and go from behind an improvised curtain that separates performance area from dressing room and DJ booth.
On the technical side, things can get too rough at moments. The limited space dramatically curbs an act like Marawa the Amazing, whose lasso tricks backfire half the time as her rope hits the beams and the furniture repeatedly. For the first third of the show, the sound is low enough for the customers’ chatter to drown compère Trixie Malicious. However, her banter sounds timid and memorised even at a louder volume, struggling to keep the crowd’s attention throughout the evening.
What Sleaze lacks in structure, though, it makes up for in sheer chutzpah. Lurid routines marked by nudity and comically crass humour are the norm, supplied by the likes of Mat Fraser and New York boylesquer Go-Go Harder, a frequent visiting guest. The avid audience laps it up, then joins in enthusiastically during games both graphic and challenging.
In one, called Drag in a Bag, male patrons don make-up, wigs and high heels, strutting through the tables to win the public vote for best transvestite. Another, named Put the Lotion in the Basket, places a wicker basket on a performer’s crotch, which contestants must hit with a squirt from a lotion bottle squeezed between their thighs. You may also expect an onstage round of Spin the Bottle – participants of all genders and orientations can take it very seriously, as I’ve learned from personal experience. Executed with unapologetic cheek, the games are an unsurprising highlight. I can’t remember a variety show with spectators more eager to interact.
Some performers make the most of the revue’s unpredictable nature. You can throw anything at The Fabulous Russella – hackling, stage falls, wrong backing tracks – and she’ll incorporate it seamlessly into her performance. In these intimate surroundings, the drag queen’s lip-synching-cum-pancake-frying skit bristles with riotous comedy, leaving behind a messy stage and a cheering crowd. Unstoppable and maniacally funny, Russella would survive a nuclear apocalypse even after the cockroaches were dead.
Sleaze is immersive shameless fun, tailored to bring out the pervert inside you. One could call it a guilty pleasure, if its regular patrons could feel guilt. The cast used to ask for tips, but now they’re selling raffle tickets instead. As if you needed a bribe to come to a show this good.
Sleaze. Produced by Mat Fraser and Trixie Malicious. Lockside Lounge Bar and Grill, London NW1 8AF. First Wednesday of the month, 21:00. £3. www.matfraser.co.uk