Review: Burlesque!

Kenza Bryan 20 November 2013

8.30pm, Tue 19 to Sat 23 Nov 2013 (except Friday), Clare Cellars

Exciting, enticing, extravagant – the evening was almost everything one could hope for from burlesque.

The audience wandered into Clare Cellars from the bar as the band was tuning up, and was then left to peer out from small alcoves onto a dimly lit stage, all in all a pleasantly claustrophobic set-up. The opening song certainly didn’t disappoint, nor did the other soulful and raucous musical numbers, particularly Bring on the Men – they acted as good back-drops to the writhing mass of lingerie-clad bodies that would sporadically appear and dance their way down a central aisle.

These individual episodes were stunningly good in terms of sheer creativity- one second a bunny would be wiggling its tail in my face, the next a man was being cut up on an operating table. They were also at their best when they developed some interaction between the actors. The performance of Tom Lehrer’s ‘masochism tango’ played particularly beautifully on the restrained sexuality of Latin American dancing, as couples danced whip in hand to impressive vocals.

Some wacky touches really help pull the show off- a boy so aroused he has to puff away on his inhaler, incongruous onesies, and a nasal, middle-aged, cross-dressing cleaner all hint at a tongue-in-cheek approach to burlesque.

The intricacy of scenes is matched only by that of the costumes. The array of clothing (or lack thereof) is powerful and overwhelming- dazzling gold brassieres, lacy black hold-ups and of course a whole range of nipple-tassles all flying past at high speed. The precise staging does manage to achieve a certain organised chaos amidst the constant shedding of clothes – there is an interesting layering effect created by the cast members progressing often quite unexpectedly from suit to sequins to underwear- and only just managing to keep their knickers on. Strip-tease sequences and dances are carried off with unwavering confidence, and it is this rehearsed poise that creates real visual appeal amidst the gyrating bodies, impossibly spiky heels and perplexing sea of soap bubbles.

Burlesque!’s original edge does however dissipate little by little. It is compellingly sexy – fascinating even – until the end, but it cannot be described as uproariously provocative. There were certainly moments of surprise, just never real shock – numbers were too short and disjointed, with no hint of a narrative thread, for any real engagement. If anything the whole experience was a touch too comfortable. Some of the cast made moves towards interacting with the audience but whether because it was the first night or we were simply too tame, it never really happened.

I personally can’t complain, having come away from it with a free condom, new-found familiarity with lots of student bums and even a conker. The end, marked by a huge pink dildo tottering onto stage amidst a crowd of trembling dancers is well-choreographed and definitely unusual- although rather than it being climactic in any sense of the term all I could make out was a heap of frenzied bodies on the floor.

By all means go to see Burlesque! for an entertaining hour or so spent reclined on a leather couch after a few drinks at Clare’s bar – despite some flaws the evening has a pleasant feel of Roman decadence to it and is not to be missed by lovers of the genre.