EasyTheatres at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford
The ghost of good old variety haunts this successful touring show. Tease not sleaze is their watchword, so while there are jiggling bottoms and whirling tassels galore, plus a little mild innuendo, there's nothing to frighten the horses, or indeed to justify the 18+ rating.
The auditorium is packed with punters, mostly in groups, bringing their boas and their booze to the party. Encouraged to whoop, whistle and heckle, they are certainly not disappointed.
Our Mistress of Ceremonies is Tempest Rose, soldiering on with a sprained ankle, but full of breathless giggly enthusiasm as she expertly warms up her audience. She has a winning way with a standard, too, giving us Don't Tell Mama to open and a nod to Nirvana at the top of Act Two. And she does a brilliantly hilarious job of humiliating her victims in the stalls, not least the four strapping men coaxed up to help her with a dance routine.
More “Cabaret” from the show's star, Amber Topaz, something of a legend in the recherché world of burlesque revival. This sassy Rotherham lass, “Yorkshire Tease” her bill matter, performs a memorable tribute to Jessica Rabbit, complete with red dress, suspender belt and her very own battery-operated bunny …
It's the show-girls who define burlesque, and this tour features the four Folly Mixtures. As well as their ensemble pieces, including bumps and grinds in glimmering gold, and the glitter-dust Diamonds finale, they have solo spots of traditional burlesque specialities – the fan dance [Liberty Sweet], the balloon number [Ella Boo], the hula hoops [Storm Hooper] – and the “neo-burlesque” with Ooh La Lou as a welder.
Two lads complete the company. Very much in the spirit of variety, we enjoy Edd Muir's mastery of the Chinese pole [for some reason he's dressed as a hard-hatted builder, but finds acrobatics very hot work...]. And Christian Lee does his cruise-ship comedy magic routine, assisted by Ruth from the audience. Very polished work, this, finely judged throwaway lines, and surreal fun with a leaf-blower and a huge yellow balloon.
Despite the Paris backcloth, and the two Berlin numbers, this is very British burlesque, and a picky critic might regret the lack of any live musicians, and a certain sameness about the choreography. But the packed crowd of birthday boys and hen groups loved every cheeky moment – even stage manager Zoe as she deftly cleared the stage of discarded nylons and lingerie.