Kiki Deville

The Story And History Behind Velvet Curtain Cabaret

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This week, vaudeville returns to one of Yorkshire’s iconic music halls. On 27 May, the City Varieties Hall in Leeds will host The Velvet Curtain Cabaret, a show with a phenomenal line-up of burlesque and variety headlined by Kitten ‘N’ Lou (voted top of the latest global Top 50 poll). This special night is co-produced and starring Havana Hurricane  and Penny Sweets of Leeds Burlesque. We spoke to Penny and asked about the gem of a venue and what they have planned for Friday.

I remember the very first time I set foot inside Leeds’ City Varieties Music Hall. It was in 2008 before the venue was fully restored by a National Lottery grant but, everywhere I looked, I had that feeling of overwhelming opulence: the drapes, the plush claret seating, the soft golden lights dancing and reflecting on every gilt cornice.

This place is undeniably special. Built in 1865 and hidden down Swan Street, a side road of one of the city’s busiest shopping districts, you could be forgiven for not even knowing City Varieties is there. A hidden gem, the theatre is beautifully preserved as a theatrical time capsule retaining the very essence of the music halls of the 1860s.

From that first moment, I knew that I wanted to be on that stage, to tread the boards that had once lain beneath the feet of such greats as Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin and the “Queen of the Music Hall” herself, Marie Lloyd.

Excitement Playbill - Credit Leeds Library and Information Service (forward slash) playbills With a reputation of bringing top class entertainment to the masses throughout the coming decades, City Varieties became renowned in the Fifties and Sixties for presenting some of the biggest names in burlesque. The venue quickly gathered a reputation for being a hot spot for northern vaudeville, providing stunning fan dance, comedy burlesque and setting hearts racing with saucy “bump ‘n’ grind”.

At its height in the 1960s, burlesque performers such as Puerto Rico’s Baby Doll, also known as the Atomic Bombshell, and the UK’s very own Rhoda Rogers were frequently gracing the stage. As the glitter settled over the years, burlesque fell out of favour with the public and, although the cabaret continued at City Varieties, the fare was far more family-friendly with only the memories of our peers and the fallen sequins between the cracks in the boards remaining.

When burlesque beauty Havana Hurricane joined me in running Leeds Burlesque last year, I knew that my new business partner was a kindred spirit, we shared a vision of bringing about a burlesque revival to the old music hall. After a lot of tough negotiating and some gentle pleading with the venues management team, we agreed terms and were given the tour.

I remember so clearly that we both held our breaths as we climbed the steps on to the beautifully raked stage. This was it, the moment we had both waited for greater part of a decade for – and it was magical! The lights seemed more even more brilliant as we stood in silent awe and imagined the rows of plush seats filled with happy faces. We felt at home.

We wanted to bring a regular cabaret night that would echo the music hall revues that the venue was so famous for. With the memory of the lavish furnishings still clear in our minds, the name seemed to come so naturally and that is where The Velvet Curtain Cabaret was born.

So on the 27th May 2016 we are bringing a line-up of some of the greatest names in cabaret, a stellar international cast bringing us burlesque, drag, singing, sword swallowing, knife throwing, hula hoop, mind reading and even a few surprises that we are keeping well and truly under our hats.

Our Cast:

<strong>Headliners Kitten 'N' Lou (c) Eli Schmidt</strong>
Headliners Kitten ‘N’ Lou (c) Eli Schmidt

Kitten ‘N’ Lou

Known as the worlds “Show Busiest Couple”, Kitten ‘N’ Lou were voted number 1 in the world in the latest Top 50 poll run by 21st Century Burlesque and received the “Most Comedic” accolade from the Burlesque Hall of Fame.

Kiki De’Ville

Known as Australia’s Sweetheart, Kiki has been seen on BBC’s The Voice (where she was championed by WillIAm) and none other than the Sydney Olympics! Kiki is quite rightfully the UK’s most sought after burlesque chanteuse!

Death Do Us Part Danger Show

Charlie and Rachel Atlas, a husband and wife duo who are pushing the boundaries in modern vaudeville bring the kind of knife-throwing acts that would previously only be seen in a circus of yesteryear to modern cabaret.

Havana Hurricane

One half of Leeds Burlesque, having performed all over the UK, Europe, America and Australia; Havana is a shimmy shakin’, earth quakin’ whirlwind of an international burlesque sensation!

Em Brulée

Featured on BBC’s Symphony for Yorkshire and a Double R Club regular, Em Brulée has performed her velvety vocals the length and breadth of our fair Isle.

Gossamer Thread Vaudeville

Gossamer Thread’s Vaudeville Company is made up of aerialist, razor-blade swallower and spinner of hoops Daisy Black, and Alex McAleer, who combines contemporary mind reading with a flair for showmanship.

Finally, taming our troupe of vaudevillians is host and compere for the evening, the second half of Leeds Burlesque; Penny Sweets

We’re delighted to both be able to feature in our first show and you can be assured that the second is already in formation, and it promises to be an extravaganza that will stay true to our ethos of true variety.

More information on the The Velvet Curtain Cabaret can be found here;

Playbill is courtesy of Leeds Library and Information Service. More information on them can be found at

The Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival Is Back!

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The Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival 2015 opens its doors next Thursday for four packed days of shows, workshops and more. We look into what this shining jewel of the UK burlesque scene has to offer.

Fans of the art of burlesque may remember the frankly and rather hilariously misinformed Hebden Burlesque Festival brouhaha of 2013. In a nutshell, an elected official who apparently didn’t know the first thing about burlesque decided to deny the festival the opportunity to take place in a council-managed building, saying that she considered that the art form “arouses strong feelings, and many people feel it is demeaning to women, and raises issues of gender equality”. Which is odd, considering that this just isn’t true and, moreover, Hebden Bridge has a reputation for being really rather liberal, at least when it comes to women.

Heidi Bang Tidy, who co-produces the festival with fellow performer Lady Wildflower, insisted at the time that burlesque was a “legal and legitimate art form” and that “we object to being told that the people of Hebden Bridge are not capable of deciding for themselves whether they wish to purchase a ticket for a burlesque show and that our show is not an ‘appropriate’ use of a public building”.

Unperturbed by all that, this year Tidy and Wildflower return with the UK’s most “inappropriate” festival, or for the grown-ups among us, Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival, and the line-up is blinding. Rosie Lugusi, Khandie Khisses, Vicky Butterfly, Andromeda Circus, The Boy With Tape On His Face, Lili La Scala and Tricity Vogue will all be there, along with the renowned “Anti-Art School” Dr Sketchy’s. The festival, which runs from Thursday 30th April – Sunday 3rd May 2015, looks set to be a long weekend of fun, frolicking, fabulousness and potentially a glittery middle finger to those locals of a more sensitive disposition.

Boy with Tape
The Boy With Tape on His Face.


The festival features a plethora of live shows spread over four venues in two towns, Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge. The party is kicked off next Thursday by a charity fundraiser and Burlesque Bazaar hosted by The Voice’s Kiki Deville. Rosie Lugosi helms the Late Night Cabaret the next evening and Heidi Bang Tidy reveals the stars of tomorrow at the Legend In The Making Newcomers Competition. The winner of that contest joins an all-star cast at the following day’s Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival Gala featuring Vicky Butterfly, Russell Bruner, The Boy With Tape on His Face and Violet Blaze.

There will also be plenty to do during the day with twelve different workshops providing an education in a number of areas. Attendees can learn to bump’n’grind with Khandie Khisses, get lessons on the art of the fan-dance or dive into “Burlesque for Beginners” classes. And then there’s the whip cracking workshops, vintage hair tutorials, aerial taster sessions and lessons on how to play a ukelele with Tricity Vogue, who is also bringing her swing band along to perform at the festival.

All in all, the weekend will be packed with scintillating burlesque acts, amazing circus performances and engaging workshops. Get there and show the town just why burlesque is something worth celebrating for everyone.

For information and to book tickets check out the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival website.