Not enough shows happen in circus tents. The traditional idea of a circus, complete with elephants and lions and horses has become all but extinct. Today’s audience require death defying stunts that excite and terrify, and acrobatics of the most complex nature, as well as a high tech spectacle to accompany them. But on London’s Southbank, a typical 1920s style circus big top remains. For the summer months it is inhabited by the London Wonderground and is packed with a variety of different shows ranging from comedy to circus to cabaret. The audience are up close and personal, sitting mere inches from the front of the catwalk-style stage.
One such burlesque-cabaret show is Between the Sheets, a late night show that claims to “explore the darker, more erotic side of striptease”. Presented by Miss Polly Rae, a well-known name on the neo-burlesque scene, the audience is treated to a variety of burlesque and acrobatic acts all laced with sensuality and innuendo. Polly Rae herself initially appears in a red glittery dress – whilst she isn’t the best singer in the world, she oozes confidence and comedy with her quips about sex and relationships. With one look in their direction, she has the males drooling and the females applauding – a rare skill to captivate both sexes so quickly. One by one she introduces her cabaret acts, a mixed bag of talent to be frank.
The best act comes from Kitty Bang Bang, who pounces onto the stage with an in-your-face attitude. Confident, sassy and incredibly sexy, she is completely in control as the whip in her hand cracks right in the faces of the front row. Then she lights it on fire and the audience are completely entranced. Fire eating as the flames caress her skin top off a sizzling performance.
A complete contrast but also a brilliantly funny act is Frisky Mivaj, a ghetto London version of the bootylicious rapper Nicki Minaj. Completely over the top and tongue in cheek, Frisky has a different kind of confidence entirely as she delivers surprisingly erudite lyrics that establish female dominance in the bedroom and leave the males wanting. Then she samples contrasting songs to create the ultimate feminist anthem – Mary Poppins, Billie Piper, Annie Lennox, Nina Simone and even Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka contribute to this mash-up that has the audience on its feet dancing.
The other female in this deadly quartet is Madame De Voila, a classy burlesque act with an oversized hat à la Marilyn Monroe and a cigarette à la Marlene Dietrich. The act itself oozes class but doesn’t have the wow factor of Kitty or the comedy factor of Frisky. The supporting males have a similar effect – they play their parts well but don’t match up to the confidence of the women. Stephen Williams comes close as an aerial acrobat contorting and spinning above the stage but even this falls short, lacking something extra to put it in the same league. Callum McDonald and Phil Ingud come across poorly in their stripped back intimate couples dance; the lifts aren’t crisp and the emotion between the lovers just isn’t there.
Miss Polly Rae is the star of the show here and proves why she is the Best Burlesque act of the London Cabaret Awards 2015. A single look from her melts man or woman and is a whole lot hotter than even Frisky’s fire breathing.
Between the Sheets is playing at The Spiegeltent, London Wonderground until 17 September. For more information and tickets, see the London Wonderground website. Photo by London Wonderground.