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Review of The Burlesque Show 2017 at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

There is still a feeling of outer body going on when I attend The Burlesque Show despite this now being my third time. A sort of, is this really the thing I want to be seeing? I mean burlesque, it's a bit of a weird and niche thing isn't it? Well yes it absolutely is in reality one of them things, and the one it isn't when you watch it is weird.

The Burlesque Show though, is actually quite poorly titled to be fair. I am not sure what else I would call it, but this is far from 100% burlesque action, this is good genuine old fashioned variety evening, wrapped with a little slightly risque burlesque and saucy humour. However, if you come thinking burlesque is all about kit off, I have seen more nudity in a refined dignified play or two, and certainly the humour has been much more coarse at a reputable comedy gig or two.

Last year I was very critical of the fact that the 2016 show had been so close to the 2015 version that to quote myself "the pot really does need stirring on the material front to keep this fresh and entertaining". Thankfully the pot had very much been stirred for 2017, and while there were a couple of routines seen previously, they were either very much worth seeing again, or were audience involved to generate a much different journey to the finishing off.

Hosting duty this year was taken by the truly delightful and wickedly funny Lili la Scala, who also happens to be none other that Mrs Tape Face, of The Boy With Tape On His Face fame. That is one talented and inventive household right there. From her effervescent arrival onto the Royal stage, Lili has the audience in the palm of her hands, with both her quick witted repartee with the crowd, clever and funny jokes (with just the right amount of sauce), and also a simply amazing singing voice. A show like this really lives and dies sometimes on the quality of its host, and in Lili, there is infinite quality. Having said we need an excellent host, that is not to say that the meat in the sandwich can be flimsy, and for 2017, The Burlesque Show has good solid meat.

After having had a break in 2016, the brilliant Pete Firman returns with his quick witted, and rather startling tricks, which even having seen them previously on his 2016 own show tour, still baffle in the extreme. Pete is a consummate professional, able to have not only a tremendous magic skill, but adept at handling any possible iteration of audience member, including during this show, the extremely reluctant Pat, and the not reluctant in anyway at all Phil.

Two other returning performers, who presented a relatively similar collection of acts were Alexandra Hofgartner and Abi Collins (in two different characters). The former performed her daring silks act once again, however in the first half, she performed the equally daring, and new to me, aerial hoop act. Both performances are captivating to watch, as is Alexandra herself. So I was more than happy to see her again.

Abi Collins, who had hosted the show the previous years, performed her highly flexible hula hoop act in the first half and then in a brilliantly entertaining spin on the night, appeared as her second alter-ego Peggy Sued in the foyer during the interval. It turned out, that as well as entertaining the guests there, she was also selecting her co-performers for her second act piece. Bad backs permitting, it turned out to be Greg and Steve, who had the task of getting hands-on with Peggy's "love device". It was the same as we had seen before, the scarily dangerous routine, but with different people, it was different enough to entertain.

So what was new? Well obviously apart from Lili's constant brilliance, we had Robin Boon Dale and Jack Bailie (in the second half a double act, in the first just Robin). They are the circus act of old, presenting a masterclass of pretty impressive juggling. However for a spin, their dual performance is the full-on Full Monty routine, as they keep their balls up in the air (so to speak), while removing each others clothes to the strains of Sir Thomas of Jones. It is clever, skilled, and funny and yes they go all the way, but you probably didn't catch more then a bottom, due to skilled use of their hats.

The second brand new performer was the wonderful burlesque part of the show proper, in the form of the lovely Lena Mae Lenman. She performed two silky smooth routines at the start and the end of the evening, which were every bit the sophisticated world that proper burlesque is and clearly the audience was thrilled with it.

It is interesting that without a doubt the audience during this performance was the best of the three I have seen, perhaps an awful lot to do with a good splashing of alcohol. However they truly were up for it. The front row in particular was the perfect collection of burlesque virgins (certainly dropped in it on the front row), the outrageously rude mother sitting two seats from her son, and a keen audience participant and one less so. The best front row yet!

So, a much more stirred line-up with new and quality repeated material, and definitely for me the best of the three Burlesque Shows I have seen. Perhaps the only criticism that could be laid at the door of the show is quite ironic really, in that it perhaps didn't actually contain enough actual burlesque. For me that didn't matter, as this show is something much more than the name it goes by. It is a chance for a night of sauce and a good splash of really missed variety entertainment. A sadly very rare thing to be seen nowadays.

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Performance reviewed: Saturday 14th January, 2017 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.


The Burlesque Show ran at the Royal & Derngate (Royal) on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th January, 2017 only.

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

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