Strip Strip Hooray! Between The Sheets Is A Burlesque Delight
Like many of its performers, burlesque has its knockers. Some take the high ground and see it as an unfeminist pursuit which demeans women and relies on the male gaze for validation. Others deride it as cheap thrills provided by failed dancers to an audience of unattractive straight men.
Arguments against such dishearteningly dumb views could take a number of forms but the most painless would be a night sat watching Between The Sheets: An Intimate Cabaret. Sponsored by an "intimate lifestyle" brand — who helpfully provide sachets of "personal moisturiser" on each seat — it once again returns to the London Wonderground’s summer festival of cabaret.
While some shows rely on guest performers to amp up the core cadre of dancers, Sheets is packed with quality from the inside out. Leading an almost-unchanged line-up is Miss Polly Rae, a scarlet siren who exudes sensuality from hair to heels; with a face that could launch starships and a mellifluous voice that tears through the Paradiso Spiegeltent, she sets the saucy tone for much of this memorable soirée. Alongside her, compadre Kitty Bang Bang is a fire-breathing, whip-cracking psychobitch whose every shimmy is a scene-stealer.
Phil Ingud and Callum McDonald (who has dropped his stage moniker of Justin Cider since last year’s outing) belie their beefcake looks to put on graceful and humorous performances. Their joint routine is a world away from the raw eroticism or jokey nature of the rest of the show: a poignant and moving love story explored through dance, it would not be out of place in one of Matthew Bourne’s ballets.
It wouldn’t be a Sheets show without being invited to board Sleazyjet Flight Number 69 to Lesbos.
Although heavy on the burlesque, there are nods towards cabaret with a few variety elements. Acrobat Stephen Williams soars above the crowd on straps to jaw-dropping effect, while one-woman mashup machine Frisky Mivaj (one half of celebrated duo Frisky & Mannish) adds audience interaction and hilarious rap to the proceedings.
It wouldn’t be a Sheets show without being invited to board Sleazyjet Flight Number 69 to Lesbos. The classic ensemble routine is as wonderful as ever with the stripping trolley dollies doing what burlesque does best: satirising the modern world with cheeky charm and nudity.
Not all of Sheets is a step up from last year. For all her bootyshaking antics, Mivaj (taking over from Ophelia Bitz) lacks the unashamedly pornographic approach of her predecessor; to a show which celebrates all things that go hump in the night, Bitz added a much-missed dose of dark and delicious filth. The effect of the ambitious final routine — which sees a near-naked Kitty Bang Bang cavorting in a giant absinthe glass before setting her tassels on fire — is unfortunately stunted by technical failures. Thankfully, the humour and brevity of the sponsor slots this time around renders them markedly less painful.
From a theatrical perspective, there is much to admire. Through stunning lighting effects, visual director Klare “Yaya” Wilkinson brings real intimacy to a show set in a big top. The choreography is on point throughout, as is the costuming.
Sheets is a show which sets the bar high not only for its art form but for the capital’s entire cabaret scene. It is as fine an example of the merits of modern ecdysiasm as it is possible to get this side of Las Vegas and critics would do well to at least take a peek here before castigating burlesque or its participants.
Between The Sheets continues at the London Wonderground on the South Bank on 9 and 17 September. Tickets £17-£23.50. More information can be found on the London Wonderground website. Londonist attended on a complimentary press ticket.
Last Updated 31 July 2015