Monday, 12 September 2016

Chapter 155: House of Burlesque at London Wonderground

Tempest Rose
Photo credit:

Each year, London Wonderground brings Coney Island to the South Bank offering a wealth of cabaret, circus and comedy, conjuring up all the fun of the fair, with carnyville flair, set against the backdrop of the giant ferris wheel that is the London Eye. It is one of my all-time favourite playgrounds, the atmosphere alone is worth the price of a ticket. So I was delighted to go last week to see Tempest Rose's House of Burlesque, as Jair Ramirez, my aerial teacher at Freedom2Fly in Hackney, was doing a star turn on straps there.

Having spent life in the Sloe Lane in West Sussex over summer, reinforced by a lesson in speed awareness at the invitation of the local constabulary, a night out was also just the tonic for someone feeling a bit rum. I was gutted not to be at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, and lived vicariously through social media. Not the same as being there, but it was informative, and there was a definite pulsing vibe on certain frequencies. I was particularly drawn to the tweets of @Vendettavain, whose soundbites and appraisals of shows were frank, authoritative and engaging. So when it turned out that my husband was working in Dublin, I invited her along in his place, for where better to meet than at a night watching strong, confident women command the stage? It was grand.

Putting the "sin" into absinthe... Tempest Rose & Betsie Bon Bon
The vintage glamour of the 1920s style Spiegeltent in the Wonderground was the perfect setting for an evening of faburlesque outfits and millinery concoctions. Tempest Rose sauntered in with a glass of red wine woven onto her head with vine leaves that particularly tickled my fancy. This was burlesque "Straight Up ... The Next Round", a toast to alcohol and the loss of inhibition. 

"Are there any burlesque virgins out there tonight?" she teased, ready to suck up the cherry from the proverbial martini glass, with both a wicked line in ad-lib and a siren voice for singing. I liked the opening tease of a group of Beefeaters. It struck me as a skit on the Bearskin routine of the girls opening the Crazy Horse cabaret, though later I realised it was more likely to be a nod to the brand of gin. Either way, that captures the spirit of burlesque for me: it is a pastiche, a burla or laugh, the art of mixing up and stirring, along with a whole heap of attitude. 

The acts that followed covered a myriad of tones and styles that celebrated the sheer diversity of women and women's bodies. Highlights for me included a great sketch involving Leonie Soprano and a lecherous hand puppet, the hilarious reverse strip of a hungover performer in drag make-up getting ready, late for work, (made me think of Betty Grumble at the Fringe), and for sheer beauty, the multiple butterfly act. I took my sombrero off to a sensuous tequila dance routine and to Betsie Bon Bon, with her signature Bettie Paige bangs, soaking up the applause in a giant vodka glass. 

Jair Ramirez in his element
That alcohol was a metaphor for intoxicating love was made clear by Tempest Rose in the final address: "This show is about love... the love that we have for our art form...the love and the joy that we feel being able to present women on stage as we see them, as we admire them, everything they can be, everything they are... " and as love makes the world go round, these words paved the way for an onstage proposal by one of the performers, the gorgeously charismatic Trixie Kixx, to her beloved girlfriend. It was incredibly special and touching to witness.

Love was in the air, and Lucy loves circus. As such, Jair's act was in a different bracket to the burlesque for me, and "in a league of his own" according to my husband, Xav, who had landed an earlier flight and made it at the last minute too. As a student in Jair's classes, of course I know that this man is a machine when it comes to drive, hard work and dedication to his craft, but seeing Jair for the very first time fully unleash his skill in a professional performance was something else. Moving like lightning with a precision and speed on straps, at points slowing movement right down to holds in impossible positions for interminable pauses, he would surprise with such sudden drops that my nails left marks in the palms of my hands. It was exhilarating to watch. Adrenalin-pumping circus crack.


I am somewhat mortified at the thought of Jair having to watch my ungainly attempts at clambering up silks again this term - ironically, for this would-be circus strongwoman, my personal nemesis is a position called "The Amazon" - but I love the Freedom2Fly community and it has been motivation to crank up the pull-ups again, ahead of my return to training. Of course I don't aspire to the lofty heights of a pro like Jair, but that is not the point. It's about reaching up to those faraway stars in the sky and in the process finding you've stretched, grown a little taller, and can hold your head up that little bit higher. And the burlesque girls have had me daydreaming too. After a seaside postcard of a summer, scant of clothes and bare of make-up, those ladies reminded me of the sheer fun to be had, and the power at play, in dressing up, unleashing your inner diva and letting rip...