London gets twisted
The burlesque revival has finished. At this year's Edinburgh Fringe, the separation between the burlesque community and the more talented performers – usually acts basing their skills on something more than undressing in a vaguely comic manner – became apparent. The strongest acts made alliances with the cabaret and variety scenes, while the interest of theatre and dance writers exposed the previously self-sufficient burlesque community to wider audiences and new criticism.
Part of this evolution has been the rise of the curator as a key figure: Blonde Ambition's Vive Le Cabaret demonstrated the importance of a crafted programme. In London, Chas Royale's London Burlesque Week has inspired his latest weekend of exotic entertainment, The Twisted Cabaret.
Spread across two nights at the Historic Bush Hall, a venue that has the appropriately vintage plush glamour, Twisted Cabaret concentrates on the more outre acts that have survived the burlesque revival and taken cabaret away from supper-club safety. Hosted by Frank Sanazi – an ingenious genetic mash-up of Hitler and Rat Packer – and the Jesuit of Damnation Dusty Limits – the evenings are headlined by the outrageous Empress Stah.
Stah was one of the first artists to make the link between burlesque, Live Art and fetish culture. Star of the Edinburgh Torture Gardens, Stah perverts the coy eroticism of most burlesque towards aggressive and cutting comments on sexuality and gender. Supported on the Saturday show by Maleficent Martini, a former ballet dancer corrupted by hard rock and alternative glamour, and on the Friday by broken glass maestro Missy Macabre, Stah is the leader of a new wave of cabaret that genuinely celebrates technique, alternative sexuality and glamour, retaining a sharp intelligent critique of taste and beauty.
Royale's curatorial style, as defined at the LBW is clearly in evidence over these two dates. There is a mixture of male and female striptease - Saturday's Spencer Maybe is arguably the only male burlesque act who does masculine sexy - old school glamour from Amsterdam's Bebe Rose, alongside acts that are unique and startling.Then there is the wild card: Big Chief Random Chaos from Dublin, who exploded from the clubbing scene as half man, half fish, half woman.
The Twisted Cabaret is a long way from burlesque's roots in local communities: the valuable rhetoric of self-empowerment has been replaced by a polish and professionalism. This isn't part of a revival: it is a cabaret form that is confident, sassy and ready to play.
The Historic Bush Hall, 310 Uxbridge Road, 1-2 Oct, 8pm, £18.50-39.50