By Leonora O'Brian
New burlesque is the most spirited movement to sweep the London club scene recently - it
was only a matter of time before it found a Stoke Newington stage for itself. Flashmonkey are a 'bluesy, jazzy, souly' band with a whole vault of fan dancers,
fire-eaters and egg-laying ladies in the back of their van. Their burlesque bazaar is a bespoke night in which the smut level is tailored to suit the particular regulations of each venue.
Its Stokey debut was at The Eye recently. So did the boys at The Eye chose a harmless Boston strain of burlesque or do they fancy themselves as the new Minsky brothers?
As prima donna Shingais blasted out the first song of the evening, a talk-stopping version
of Nina Simone's 'Feeling Good', you could hear a hair pin drop from a pompadour. Roll on a vintage night. Fat, stripping matron types with false teeth added a dash of traditional burlesque slapstick ribaldry in between tracks. Sirio the Silent took a nap on a bed of nails on stage as a sultry Spanish siren chatted away in the crowd with a boa constrictor around her neck - that kind of carry on. The whole affair was Glam cabaret with a touch of the exotic. The old burlesque spirit was captured - that giddiness fuelled by impending nudity. How much nudity was there exactly? Lots - every time I happened to be lured to the bar by another evil King Kong cocktail. Digital photos (none of which could be printed in N16) and a slimy egg were shown to me as evidence. And I'd been so looking forward to Easter.
Sex, albeit soft-core, has always been one of burlesque's main attractions. In the Victorian age when it was improper to have an ankle showing, men flocked to see women wearing a gadget, tassels on their blisters and not a lot else. It was only in the 1920s, as the old circuits were being closed down and theatres had to increasingly focus on the striptease aspect of it, that burlesque acquired its more sleazy reputation.
There was nothing rubefacient or voyeuristic about this Flashmonkey evening, though.
Probably because, as is typical of new burlesque, the punters and staff are as much a part of the act as the performers. There were prizes for best dressed and all the jerks had made the effort, fair play to 'em ('jerks' being burlesque for audience member by the way). The result was an alloy of absurd glamour and cheeky sleaze. Think pink pole dancing for Bugsy Malone in a toilet off the Moulin Rouge.
In the 1840s, burlesque (meaning satire, derisive imitation) began, as a spinoff of its more gentile cousin, vaudeville. It was a rich source of comedy and music that kept the working classes of Britain, France and the States entertained through most of the Depression. Any social habit of the upper classes from Shakespeare to Opera could be victim of a burlesque The New Burlesque spoof such as Bend Her (Ben-Hur) and Much Ado About a Merchant of Venice. So there's obviously a fin de siecle aspect to it all. It encapsulates that
reckless, rule-breaking abandon society feels when there's nothing left to do or hope for. Like the decadence that rose with the fall of the Roman Empire. So why London, why now? These are days of terrorist threats and futile anti-war campaigns are they not? These are days of bombing paraplegics in wheelchairs are they not?
Days where our youth worship fat pop idols and think protest is a backdrop for a fashion ad. Are we all finally thinking 'let's get the hell wasted'?
Ok, I'll lighten up. No need to intellectualise it beyond what it and its performers stand for. As Diamonte Dave of Flashmonkey puts it 'new burlesque's an interpretation of the traditional movement. It's entertainment by the misfits of life, for the misfits of life; we just want everyone to have a great time'.
Why, thanks Dave, you've succeeded. I for one felt properly entertained. Your night of drinking with dwarves and divas is a welcome break from the usual rock 'n roll repertoire. It's also a fitting tribute to those ladies who first shook their pasties in the face of New York's indecent exposure laws.
Jeff Removals and Transport
|7 days a week · Any distance covered
· No job too small · One or two men available
|Phone: 020 8802 5696 / 020 8800 4155
07973 179 610 Ask for Jeff