London Burlesque Week 2011: Sexy Circus Sideshow
As a kid, I found the circus a rather innocent affair. Nights were ranked by the size of your candyfloss and whether or not you came home with a goldfish in a plastic bag. Not this time. At London Burlesque Week encore revue Sexy Circus Sideshow, the clowns, freaks, and acrobats are out in force. Performers include favourites from the festival as well as new acts.
Presiding over the weirdness is sword-swallowing ringmistress Miss Behave. Dressed in her signature red PVC, the La Clique star is a convivial host, brazenly stealing drinks from the audience before putting their cigarettes out on her tongue. Her brassy style is well-adapted for the beer-and-sweat-soaked crowd, which she addresses like mates down the pub. If your mates stick two-foot-long swords down their throats, that is.
She is not the only one with tricks up her sleeve this evening, and it’s fire that seems to be the dish of the day for most. Fresh from his turn in Twisted Cabaret, Big Chief Random Chaos looks like Fred Flintstone in French maid attire, larking about and setting fire to his mohawk. Silly it may be, but an affable stage presence makes him enjoyable to watch.
Lydia Darling takes playing with fire to more sensuous levels as showgirl meets cowgirl in a gingham-clad torch act. It’s a little more fresh-faced than the performance that won her the Double R Club Miss Twin Peaks title in 2010, but she’s nonetheless enthralling as she grinds her hips in a flaming hula hoop. Evoking the unholy orgies of Eyes Wide Shut, Mr Pustra as a gold-painted satyr is darkly compelling as he drips grape juice and then hot wax over his chest and giant prosthetic penis.
Despite the ‘prime time’ ticket price, there is a pleasing amount of eccentricity. But that’s not to say it all comes off. Though even more freakish than her clown act in the festival’s newcomers’ contest, Lucy Longlegs‘ unconvincing sword dance is sadly just as disappointing. Covered head-to-toe in blue UV paint, parts of which she peels off to reveal her own red, wound-like flesh beneath, the attempted gross-out seems half-hearted even as she hacks off a nipple. The journey into the grotesque is much better handled by corseted sideshow belle Vivid Angel. Lip-synching to the Cabaret soundtrack as she sticks fishhooks through her eyelids, the enrapturing oddity’s skit is perfectly timed to the laughs and gasps of the audience.
Interval entertainment sees Lucy Enskattaking time off her own sexy circus, Hocus Pocus Theatre, to play fortune-telling gypsy. Tarot cards in hand, she weaves through the audience, not one of whom fails to draw The Lovers from her pack. In general, though, the circus vibe falls flat. With tickets costing up to £25 a pop, you’d have thought they could stretch to a bit of bunting. More of a gig venue than a theatre, the Relentless Garage doesn’t lend itself particularly well to the visual nature of the evening’s thrills and spills. As the crowd surges to the front, I end up perching on a shelf that definitely wasn’t designed for anything wider than a pint glass.
One thing that endures from the circus of my childhood is that the clowns are a distinct lowlight. Dott Cotton is adorable in braces and a red nose but her radio mash-up mime act lacks variety, while Johnny Electrolux‘s twice-failed attempt to climb inside a giant balloon is cringeworthy at best. His last resort to win back his audience is to whip off his clothes and stroll off stage in a neon mankini. Happily it works, and the audience’s cheer is restored.
With a pub humour atmosphere established early on, it is clear that any nudity is going to be well-met by this crowd. “When someone gets their tits and minge out, what do you do?” demands Miss Behave to resounding cheers. But it’s fair to say the dancing doesn’t go unappreciated either. Leah Debrincat (a recent highlight in Kyabare and The Tassel Club) is breathtaking. Her control in no way detracts from her sensuality as she belly-dances with seemingly effortless isolations.
Burlesque temptress Luna Rosa keeps the Arabian Nights theme going in gold glitter and a fez. Her beautiful choreography and elegant striptease is exotic but never aloof, while her infectious energy gets the audience whooped up in no time. By contrast, Suri Sumatra‘s exquisite homage to Aubrey Beardsley is an aesthetic treat that leaves us captivated but emotionally stumped. A cross between a pierrot and a geisha, she is distant and beautiful, her intricate and expertly-crafted costume only adding to her enigmatic appeal.
Guest headliner Lilikoi Kaos wraps things up in more traditional circus style with her impressive multi-hoop hula act. The charismatic Australian grins broadly as the audience cheers before bowing off and letting us party on until the early hours.
And so the sideshow leaves town for another year. It has awed and unnerved by turns and, despite my lack of goldfish, I’m a convert to a new kind of circus. If you’re looking for candyfloss, this ain’t it. If you’re after a thrilling boozy freakshow, then you’ve come to the right place.
Chaz Royal Presents: Sexy Circus Sideshow. Relentless Garage, Islington, London. 4 June, 21:00. £18.50 (£12.20 advance). www.londonburlesqueweek.com
Photos by Alessia Palombo