‘They do virgins.’ M slides the bar menu across to me. I blush. And the show hasn’t even started.
We are at Café de Paris to see ‘La Rêve’, weekly cabaret variety night and my first taste of burlesque. This is the last hurrah for celebrated compere, Dusty Limits, who, in his characteristic sardonic tone, will later remind us that whilst le rêve means ‘the dream’ in French, la rêve means fuck all. He opens the show with a cleverly updated version of I’m a Vamp, slinking down the stairs, Macavity-like. Except that he is very definitely there. His charisma is mesmerising, his confidence catching; with Dusty at the helm, what could possibly go wrong?
Enter Gypsy Wood. Initially promising, things begin to unravel with the start of the striptease. The performance teaches me a lot about the challenges of burlesque; one faltering movement, the slightest loss of timing, and the illusion is shattered. ‘Burlesque is more than anything about the suspension of disbelief,’ M tells me. One feels a little sorry for Gypsy as she struggles with her costume: more stubborn zipper in the fitting room, than showgirl.
I’m grateful that Raymond and Mr. Timpkins don’t try to be sexy. The funniest act of the night, they incorporate word signs and props into a clever comedy routine, set to an upbeat medley of popular song excerpts. The audience is in hysterics as the duo, backed by the chorus of Oasis’ Little by Little, wave carrier bags from the budget supermarket: one of the evening’s high points. My only plea to these talented comedians is that they shorten their act a little: always best to leave the audience wanting more. A principle which Laurie Hagen milks for all it is worth with her reverse striptease. She performs with an irresistible air of detachment, incorporating doll-like movements, and oozing Parisian glamour in her simple black chemise. Clever, slick and sexy: the way burlesque should be done.
Laurie’s ensemble was bang on – once on. If only the same could be said of Stephen Williams. His acrobatic routine is impressive; his outfit truly terrible: shades of French sailor. Quel dommage.
But more disappointing is the failure of ‘France’s funniest comedian’ to appear. (Yes, it’s an oxymoron.) In his place we get Australia’s distinctly average Asher Treleaven. He begins by telling us he’s been drinking wine backstage with his wife (none other than Gypsy Wood, M later informs me) and two dancers. Time which would have been better spent rehearsing; or perhaps writing some jokes. As he leaves the stage to lukewarm applause, I turn to M: ‘he was very funny… for a moment’. Enough said.
Sheathed in a glittering costume, Zora Vipera restores confidence, weaving her way through the audience, dangling grapes for their delight. Her fire-breathing burlesque act is hot stuff, and inspiring on the grape front, but I prefer Laurie’s control and finesse. Sex on fire? I’ll have mine gently simmering.
The show ends quite literally on a high with aerialist duo act, Colette Morrow and Andres Felipe. Their chemistry is intense, and many of the moves beautiful. As the audience applauds a particularly sensual sequence, M mutters about the music being too fast. He has a point.
Café de Paris is famously modelled on the ballroom of the Titanic. Dusty might have jumped ship, taking with him a little piece of my heart, but sink, it most certainly will not.
La Rêve, Fridays at Cafe de Paris, 3 – 4 Coventry Street, London. W1D 6BL, General Admission Show Tickets – £15 (£12 early bird); dinner with show: from £47.50; for more details go to: http://www.lareve.co.uk