REVIEW: Tease pleases – but not the bar queue!

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Performer Kitty Campari

Sarah Halford reviews A Midsummer Night’s Tease Valentine’s Special at The Stratford Play House, 15th February

MIDSUMMER it may not have been but there was plenty of bottom to be seen in Stratford on Friday night.

The Midsummer Night’s Tease Valentine’s Special certainly got an abundance of bums on seats, or rather out of them, with an exuberant night of titillation and bare-faced cheekiness.

Top talents from the burlesque and cabaret scene pulled off a glorious, even riotous, evening of glitz and glamour, silliness and spectacle, bearing almost all for the delight and delectation of a packed Play House.

It wasn’t only the performers’ apparel that was stripped off either — a reputedly buttoned-up Stratford audience threw off its inhibitions with gay abandon too, perhaps lubricated by the free bubbly.

Fizz certainly wasn’t needed for some very high jinks, though, because all the features of burlesque you’d expect were on the bill to give an eager audience an evening of fun and frolicks.

The vintage-infused night was, it almost goes without saying, reminiscent of 1950s semi-nudie burlesque, with its time-honoured abundance of dazzling costumes, satin and sequins, ostrich feather fans and the obligatory rotating tassles. It was spectacle all the way, hilarious and provocative, with a flavour of circus and carnival courtesy of artists who performed unfeasible feats with everything from hoops to a skunk outfit.

Modern burlesque is neither smutty nor sleazy — there isn’t a dirty mac in sight. Neither is it particularly erotic; it’s a mixture of seduction and slapstick with a theatrical nod and a mischievous wink to the naughty but nice and ever-so-slightly saucy.

The Valentine Tease included a few modern twists, both technological and social. There were more than a few fantastic tricks with strip lighting and somersaults on spring-loaded stilts, including over a brave audience member’s head, that drew a few gasps.

True to the transgressive tradition of burlesque, though, were elements such as male as well as female strip-tease. Male strippers are nothing new, of course, but this was not the standard macho format — it was, rather, boylesque. For the uninitiated like me, this is a new take on the classic art strip-tease, even the male version, that is certainly a little camp but actually pretty androgynous.

It was a local group of amateur burlesque performers who really stole the spotlight, though, with their determined slogan to ‘Kill it at any size’. This group of women who have only recently been learning the dance form in their spare time strutted their stuff and showed that they could command the stage at any size, age or level of experience.

The night was very slightly marred by the chaos of a disorganised venue. This was in no way the fault of the show’s organisers – in fact, the show was a triumph despite the long, ridiculously long queues at the bar, with two people serving more than 200 people, who also had to mingle with everyone gathered in the foyer and ambling with nowhere in particular to go before the show started, along with the cloak racks and a couple of indeterminate desks. Even a couple of ushers would have been helpful.

Nevertheless, love was certainly in the air and if the crowds of body-and-arm-swaying revellers were anything to go by the show, led by brilliantly dynamic host Betsy Harmony, was an absolute triumph.