‘Don’t mention the wardrobe failure’ is the word on the street in the student papers concerning the new night, and consequently, I shan’t. However, the old adage that no publicity is bad publicity rang true, and it’s clear that the large and raucous audiences (between two and three hundred last week) are by no means being put off by the rumours. Cries of ‘get ‘em off!’ were actually to be heard – and given that London’s Whoopee! Club was founded, and is run, by a pair of professional strippers, what else can one expect of a club paying homage to it?
After two interminable hours of decent semi-improvised jazz (sorry, there’s only so much you can take when you don’t know the show starts at 11pm), with a tiny wooden sax and a good but very quiet vocalist, the performance began with a routine from the Burlesk! signature dancers, whose attire this week was reminiscent of some jolly ladies of the evening from a Toulouse Lautrec painting. We were then treated to a rendition of ‘Maybe this time’ (as sung by Sally Bowles in Cabaret) by the lovely Miss Kitty, who smiled beautifully and sang very well but could possibly have ‘performed’ a bit more. It is at this stage of the evening that it becomes clear for the second time that the group (or Jongleurs) really do need to get some better vocal microphones, as the sound is of a very poor quality, which is a pretty major problem for such a vocals-driven show. An otherwise haunting (although pretty bizarre, especially the bit with the carrot in the top hat) rendition of Madonna’s ‘Give Yourself To Me’ was almost inaudible, due to no fault of Miss Bunny Van Tramp. When such love and energy clearly goes into all other aspects of production, it’s a shame that a technical problem could occasionally create the impression that the show is can-canning its way along a knife edge between high quality tongue-in-cheek theatrical show and sleazy poor man’s pop idol.
The night progressed with high-energy bellydancing from Miss Electra Lux; a stripping Mary Poppins tossing off a giant syringe; a man being stripped down to his black negligeé as his red-pvc-clad companion turned the tables, stuffing cash down his non-existent cleavage; a Moulin Rouge-style ensemble performance of ‘All That Jazz’; two white body-suited ‘sculptures’ being arranged onstage as Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’ by two comical roadies; and a whole lot more (including free sweets). All the performers (most of whom are female) gave it their all, and it showed. The dancing, singing and acting was professional, the wardrobe was excellent (and didn’t fail once), and the bouncy soundtrack of vintage jazz and modern electro had us jiggling in our seats. Master of Ceremonies Mr Alexander Chevasco was also beautifully appropriate in voice, style and suit.
Burlesk! purports to be comic satire, true to its original French roots, but what we get is mainly performance art and cabaret routines - which is fine by me, as Oxford could do with some. The show’s emphasis is firmly on the audience having a good time, and we sure did. Already looking like the trendy place to be seen for anyone with remotely thespy or arty pretensions at Oxford at the moment, Burlesk! is a refreshing alternative to any other midweek Oxford fare. I expect you’ll find yourself there before you can say ‘Trixi Bendix and her Burlesque Quartet’.
NB. In 2006 Burlesk! is at the Zodiac, Cowley Road. See carteblanchetheatre.com for details.