In the resplendent surroundings of the Assembly Speigeltent, a pumping rendition of Cherry Bomb blasts out the promise of an hour of alternative grandeur. Unfortunately the hour which follows is frustrating and mediocre at best.
Painful, frustrating and mediocre at best
Promise of a high quality display of dance becomes as flaccid as a wet cloth as our compere for the evening – Miss Cherry Bomb – struts on stage in a McDonalds' chips and burger headpiece and screams into her microphone. With quite literally one of the most awkward and irritating elements I’ve ever encountered to a show, she inexplicably demonstrated hyperbolic fake orgasms. The audience interaction was clunky and futile – she asks who our burlesque virgins in the audience are, to which almost half raised their hands. Rather than follow this up and give an indication of what would follow, teasing these newcomers to burlesque with the splendour of its art, she simply moved onto the next topic of conversation. On introducing the second act of the evening, she forgot who they were and had to revert to some paper at the side of the stage – an insult to both the act, and to the audience. Miss Cherry Bomb's recurrent topic of conversation was to body shame herself for being overweight and continually talk about how much food she eats. This is completely unfitting for a performance showcasing the fine art of burlesque, which celebrates the body in all its various forms. Further, she asked the audience to shout out where they were from and then lost interest, advising that she’d been ‘doing' accents all week, and couldn’t be bothered to do it again tonight.
And then to the performers. With the promise of Best of Burlesque, and an assertion that these acts had been flown in especially for the show, my expectations were high. As a lover of burlesque, tease and the beauty of physical movement, excitement grew that the introduction was simply an ironic comedy mechanism and that the performers would now blow my mind. That didn’t happen. If this show had been introduced as amateur performers showcasing new skills, one could have been more generous and expectations would have been adjusted. However the performance had been branded as contemporary burlesque.
The first act was a performer hailing from Moscow, entitled Cabaret. The movement was stilted and ungainly and about as seductive as standing in a puddle with a hole in your shoes. When the audience barely reacted, Miss Cherry Bomb roared on stage and demanded that we make more noise, as ‘there’s nothing worse than when you get your clothes off and nothing happens’. But she was wrong – what was worse was paying £16 for a ticket to have to watch this performance. The second act was labelled nerd-esque, and relit that tiny flicker of hope that this had all just been a build up to something spectacular. However as the second act came on stage adorned in a white bed sheet with two tent poles in it, awkwardly waving them around, a knot formed in my stomach that wouldn’t unfurl until the end.
Further acts followed, none of which raised the bar – as they ineptly utilised blue feathers and other accoutrements to taunt the audience. The concept of the vaudevillian Molly House performance, featuring a non binary performer, could have been clever - but the performance came across as inelegant. The audience had to be cajoled into making any noise at all, and seemed bewildered at the acts they were experiencing. Unfortunately, they would have left both wanting and confused. Neither in a good way.
This show features a cast and compere which change nightly, so there's every chance future audience members may land on a good night. Unfortunately this reviewer did not.