Monday, 15 July 2013

Burlesque, a show unlike any other...

'Burlesque' is often thought of as an excuse for men to ogle women who take their clothes of behind a fan of feathers.  In fact, this image of the art form has brought cries of censorship where town councils have banned shows as being demeaning to women.

I read an article based on the book 'Burlesque and the Art of the Tease' by Dita Von Teese, (possibly the world's most prominent current 'Burlesquer'), published in The Independant newspaper - not often I find something interesting in there... - telling the history of Burlesque.  She follows its growth from music-hall's Lydia Thompson through Gypsy Rose Lee to today's celebrated yet controversial shows.

She says Aristophanes, the ancient Grecian playwright who penned Lysistrata was the original father of the 'idea'.  In this play, the women of the town hold back their 'sexual services' from their husbands until they agree to bring an end to the war that's raging.  I saw a performance of the Germaine Greer adaptation of the story recently.  Far from the bawdy comedy my wife and I expected,  we were, unfortunately, 'treated' to something far more serious and talky, with a couple of bits of crude humour.  The funniest part of the night was when the woman in front of us caught her glass of wine in her bracelet and spilled it over her.  Yes, I may have laughed at her misfortune, but her and her group did not know the meaning of the word ‘whisper’, so I couldn’t be too apologetic for that.


Still, I can see where she's coming from (Dita Von Teese, not the woman with the Cleopatra inclinations – OK, Cleopatra supposedly bathed in milk but you get my drift).  Burlesque is more about titillation, humour and entertainment than it is about sex and degradation.


I've not seen the Cher/Christina Aguilera film and have only seen parts of Moulin Rouge.  I haven't watched a Burlesque show on TV or YouTube and have only seen snippets from programs that have featured Miss Von Teese.  I have no idea, therefore, if the show I was going to see would be 'real' Burlesque or a version of, or something far remote.  I was excited to see, though.


The word 'Burlesque' actually derives from the Italian 'burla', meaning 'joke' or 'mockery'.  As I discovered on Saturday night, this is a very fitting name.

The Yardbirds, in Grimsby, is a rock club.  It's run by the Warlocks, a 'bikers gang'.  It's also one of my favourite pubs and venues for music.  My wife and I both love it there.  Yes, it's dark and yes it's not overly big, but it is most definitely a great place for a night out.


One thing you can pretty much guarantee is a complete lack of trouble on a night out there.  The site of the 'burly bikers' behind the bar or collecting glasses - some of the friendliest staff you're likely to meet on a night out - ensures no-one will cause any problems.  As such, every person in there feels comfortable.  As there's a very diverse range of music played, a host of differing generations can be seen on a single night - all mingling together for one reason; to enjoy themselves.


I've been to The Yardbirds many times and seen a variety of tribute acts, from U2to the Stereophonics to Bon Jovi.  There's AC-DCMetallica and Slipnot bands playing and a couple of years ago I had a great New Year's Eve watching a group called Six of the Best blast out anthems from the likes of ForeignerWhitesnake and Toto while bar staff served free vodka jellies and brought in free pizza.


One of my favourite performances - if not my actual favourite - was by Mike Trampfrom the group White Lion.  He sang an acoustic set of hits whilst telling of his memories and inspirations between the songs.  My wife was a White Lion fan, though I have to admit to barely hearing of them.  The show was, however, brilliant.  The acoustic arrangements made the 80s hits sound extremely contemporary and I told Mike this when he was done.  Great stuff.

My wife and I are always looking for an excuse to visit the Yardbirds, and we'd long been wondering about the Burlesque shows that go on there regularly.  Friends had told us what a great night was to be had, so we finally managed to arrange a babysitter (thanks mum) and off we went.


I have to say, Saturday night was an experience.  It seemed clear many people in the audience  knew what to expect.  The ladies were dressed in a mix of colourful vintage dresses and basques and stockings.  There was a man with a grass skirt and flippers.  A group of girls on a hen night all in fifties style frocks.  We, ourselves, were Burlesque virgins.


Well, that cherry is well and truly popped!


Neither of us knew exactly what to expect from the show.  There was, apparently, to be some audience participation.  Sweets (sex candy) and ice creams were on sale and (a good idea on what had been such a hot day).  In anticipation, we waited for the show to start.


The hostess, Snappy O'Shea, was fab.  She had a great rapport with the audience, with a quick wit and patter.  What I didn't expect, was to have such a big smile on my face, and laugh as much, for almost all of the night!


There was, initially, a comment about the council not allowing the show on their own premises due to it being degrading to women.  If that's your opinion, then you are entirely entitled to that.  There were certainly more women in the audience than men, however, and they were having a great time.


Yes, there were boobies, it has to be said.  The boobies had their nipples discreetly covered.  But it was all done in fun, and a lot of fun at that.  The highlights, for me, were Brenda the lollipop lady and Fifty Shades of Beige, in which a 'lucky' man from the audience was brought on stage to act out a hilarious version of the popular 'mommie-porn' phenomenon.  There was also the woman who had 'scored' that night and had a man in her room - if only she could quickly get out of the umpteen layers of body-smoothing underwear she'd squeezed into.


Add to this a Birdy Dance unlike any other I've seen, some traditional strips from behind feathers, much laughter and the cheap drinks I'm delighted the Yardbirds continue to sell, and this was certainly a night that was DIFFERENT.

 On reflection, I think the Cats Pyjamas Burlesque Company could possibly have swapped the two halves of the show about.  I felt the first half was stronger than the second.  This, though, didn't spoil the night for me.  It was very enjoyable and (for the first half very and for the second half a fair amount) a lot of fun.  We were teased, we were entertained and we were very pleased we had finally given in to the lure of the feather fan.


Their next show is going to be a Halloween Spooktakular and is on the 26th of October.  I'd thoroughly recommend going, especially if you haven't already.  We spoke to a young man stood next to us.  He'd not been to the Yardbirds before and having such a display as his initiation has simultaneously caught him in the headlights and thrilled him.  You may feel the same, but you won't be able to help enjoy yourself.

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