Burlesque and Blues
Sometimes it’s nice to be proved wrong.
On my second visit to Volupté I was ready to be disappointed. My first experience of this Chancery Lane cabaret-burlesque locale had clasped me to that genre’s abundant bosom with all the enthusiasm of a strangely eager fille de joie. Could they even begin to repeat the experience? I didn’t think so.
My eagle-eyed companion, an interior design magazine’s editor, clocked a few things that I hadn’t before, such as the greater excesses of Volupté’s exuberant décor. But after a couple of cocktails upstairs, served by a Greek mixologist of Aristophanic wit and Dionysian talents, the last thing we wanted to compare was decorating notes – we wanted some great entertainment with food and drink to match
We started to get all three the moment we reached our table downstairs and Pete Saunders, the pianist for (and inspiration behind) Volupté’s Burlesque and Blues night, sat down and started to play and sing Billy Strayhorn’s Take the ‘A’ Train. I would go far just to listen to that man’s piano and voice. Jonathan Lee’s drum accompaniment, good though it was, occasionally seemed too much for the club’s space. Saunders’ next song, Don’t Say You Love Me, his own, was unbelievably bluesy and confirmed my growing suspicion that the man is a creative genius.
To the strains of Swan Lake, enter the oh-so-nervous ballerina, Bouncy Hunter. Visibly bolstered by several gulps from an indulgent punter’s drink, her ballet-meets-burlesque routine becomes more Coppélia clutching a glass of Chardonnay than Tchaikovsky’s tragic Odette – a funny, intelligent act, superbly executed. This was followed by the evening’s co-compère and comedy-magician Christian Lee, who could not help but be upstaged by the exquisite Luna Rosa dancing to Saunders’ loose ‘Egyptian Rhumba’ interpretation of Duke Ellington’s Caravan. My companion and I sighed as Rosa, an incredibly elegant, much tattooed symphony in red with a miniscule fez to match, transported us to Rick’s Café Américain. Then an irrepressible Bouncy was back with Gershwin’s Do it Again.
During the interval there was time to reflect that Volupté’s fare has a little way to go before the haute cuisine crowd gets excited. But eating a generous, succulent steak cooked a perfect medium rare and accompanied by a decent red while listening to Pete Saunders at the keyboard is my idea of what a very good time in heaven should, but almost certainly won’t, be.
After that the acts kept coming: including more Luna Rosa, with her brand of classic, graceful striptease, both referential (think the New York Ash Can School’s Reginald Marsh) and nostalgic in the best sort of way. The penultimate act, Roxy Velvet’s slinky and sensual fire dancing (backed by Saunders’ rendition of Bad Things and A Touch of Poison) made me wonder how you can be such a good dancer and play with flaming torches: it was multitasking taken to an impressive extreme. Finally Pete Saunders and Bouncy Hunter sang Hit the Road Jack and told us not to come back no more, no more, no more… But I’m afraid I will. You couldn’t keep me away.
Burlesque and Blues. Organised by Pete Saunders. Volupté Lounge, London. 6 April, 18:30 and 21:30. £14. www.volupte-lounge.com
Photos courtesy of Pete Saunders