Review: House of Burlesque Revue at the Underbelly Festival
I’ve had a fondness for burlesque for a decade now. The costumes, movements, and facial expressions all help to tell a story, and the best acts are often the ones that do something the audience doesn’t expect. I’ve always preferred a little subversion to a lot of ‘glitter tits’, and thankfully there are plenty of performers out there who most certainly deliver. Earlier this month, I received an email from House of Burlesque, inviting me to celebrate 10 years of intelligent and fabulous entertainment, and it definitely sounded like their offering at this year’s Underbelly Festival is a show unlike any other. The email mentioned interactive projections, audience sing-alongs and some of the top UK burlesque performers, then went on to say:
We explore the contemporary reality of selfies, dick pics and failed communication through smart phone technology, how companies exploit the female image to sell products, and how throughout history men have had ownership of the female image. Through this show we seize back control of our own image, sing karaoke and live our feminist ideals while sparkling from head to toe. The more we shine, the more we courage others to do the same.
This sounded like exactly my sort of show, so I quickly replied saying that I’d love to attend! Last Thursday, I headed to the festival site on London’s South Bank and enjoyed early evening drinks in tree-lined groves, quickly feeling a million miles away from central London. Then, at 8.45pm, tickets in hand, we joined the queue for the venue to make sure we could get a good seat (they’re unallocated, so it’s wise to get there early). I’ll be honest and say that it’s going to be hard to write a review of this marvellous show without spoiling some of its surprises, but I shall try my best to come up with some words that aren’t just YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS SHOW! But you really should.
Have you ever needed a bit of help reminding yourself that you are amazing? Have you ever felt exhausted by the constant stream of Photoshopped, Facetuned images of perfection which assault our eyes every day? Well, House of Burlesque are here to say FUCK THAT SHIT. In case we needed a reminder of this mantra throughout the show and beyond, as we took our seats we were given glow-in-the-dark ‘fuck that shit’ wristbands that we can refer back to. Our host, Tempest Rose, opened the show with an explanation of what burlesque is. You may think that everyone in the audience would be aware of the definition already, but mainstream depictions of burlesque can often leave folks thinking of identikit Vegas showgirls rather than the bawdy satirical art form we were about to get a crash course in.
Tempest also told us in no uncertain terms that we weren’t to video the performances because “if people want to see the show, they can buy a fucking ticket!” before introducing us to each of her performers. The audience then showed their appreciation in the time honoured cabaret tradition of making as much noise as possible for Bettsie Bon Bon, Lolo Brow, Demi Noire, Trixie Kixx, Storm Hooper, Bootsy Bonafonte, Gracie Disgrace and Bonnie Knockers.
The whoops and cheers continued into the first solo act by the delectable Demi Noire, giving us 1970s vibes with a 21st century twist, and before long we were into audience sing-alongs and a competition with a prize for the best selfie. Lolo Brow’s freak show left everyone either laughing uproariously or gawping in disbelief, but we had to take a moment to pull ourselves together because the House of Burlesque gang have only just begun.
There were so many great performances that it’s tough to remember them all – especially as the bar was open throughout, so you could pop and get yourself another drink without missing any of the show! I thoroughly enjoyed Tempest Rose’s fantastic monologue about Western society’s unrealistic beauty standards, illustrated perfectly by a photo that is taken of her by one of the HOB crew and then Photoshopped on screen behind Tempest as she speaks. Also, the current political climate has me even more ashamed of being British than I have been in the past, but I have to say that the sassy Bettsie Bon Bon returned us all to London 2012 Olympics level joy. And then there was the Tron moment… check out this trailer for a glimpse.
Despite the overtly feminist content of the show, there was still a smattering of inappropriate heckling. (No prizes for guessing that it was from drunk men!) However, Tempest Rose responded perfectly every time and I soon realised that my initial reaction to street harassment is now going to have to begin by asking myself “what would Tempest Rose do?” She is a sparkling sweary example to us all.
This is an exhilarating ride of a show, the effects of which will stay with you long after you leave the venue. It is burlesque at it’s best – skilled performers who elicit emotions as well as making you question the world and your own reactions to it. I asked above if you have ever needed a bit of help reminding yourself that you are amazing, and I think it should now be pretty clear that a visit to House of Burlesque Revue can most certainly help with that! I highly recommend that you snap up some tickets before the show closes next month.
The next performance of House of Burlesque Revue is on Thursday 30th August at the Underbelly Festival on London’s South Bank, and there are another three shows in September. You can find more information on dates and how to book on the Underbelly Festival website.
DISCLOSURE: I was given free tickets to House of Burlesque Revue by Tempest Rose, but the opinions in this review are entirely my own. All images via House of Burlesque.