Friday April 29th, the day of the Royal Wedding, my friend and I decided, in our wisdom, to visit the jam packed capital to check out the 4th qualifying heat for Burlesque Idol. Relatively new to the scene Burlesque performers are invited to perform for a panel of professional judges and an audience. The judges offer comments and tips after each routine and the crowd vote for the winner. The victor, with an armful of winner’s goodies, is then awarded a place in November’s final. It took us two and a half hours to reach Soho, managing to avoid flag wielding tourists and ‘Will and Kate’ T shirt clad revellers – we made it just in time.
As to the venue – Madame JoJo’s, I have visited this famous spot before and was again impressed with the unexpected, mini Parisienne palace that awaits as you reach the bottom of the staircase. Coming from the now (in)famous Essex where the majority of girls look like they have rolled in Doritos, the men carry bottles of Moet around like recently won trophies, the club doormen only sometimes manage a grunt and the bar staff have better things to do than serve you – let alone entertain any niceties – Madame JoJo’s is a breath of fresh air. Ironic how we are warned that the London equivalents are higher up the snooty ladder. Not so at Madame JoJo’s – the staff could not be more accommodating and it is undoubtedly a venue I would happily take my mother, boyfriend or a group of friends for a great night out.
After settling at our front row table, the luscious Tempest Rose announced, in her sultry tones, that Barnaby Slater would be our host for the evening. I later discovered the meaning of ‘Barnaby’ to be ‘Son Of Consolation’, and within a few minutes of his introduction I guessed that a couple of the audience members may need some consoling after he had finished with them. Confident and as quick witted as you would expect a London cabaret circuit comedian to be, he instantly questioned why I was making notes – ‘a shopping list?’ he asked, oh balls, incognito was now not an option for me. Dressed in a shirt, trousers, tiara and socks (but no shoes) Mr Slater had clearly observed the day’s royal celebrations from the same position as the rest of us peasants – in the pub.
His interaction with the intimate audience was brilliantly balanced, managing to explain the evening’s contest, what we were to expect during the next three hours and slipping in numerous laugh-out-loud off the cuff remarks. He had plunged straight into proceedings, instantly capturing the crowd’s attention and he was immediately likeable – just don’t bloody pick on me, I thought. My companion is the joker amongst our group of friends (she would probably object to being referred to as the clown – we will call her ‘Miss Jokes’) and best described as the female version of Keith Lemon, but even she would be no match for Barnaby Slater.
Bettie Blush would be the first brave contestant to appear on the small curved stage. Immediately in character as a sexy jewellery thief, she told her story with clarity and we all understood her criminal exploits. Being so close to the action I sensed Bettie B to be quite nervous, understandably so as the first competitor up to be so literally judged by her audience. A little way into her naughty routine there were some temporary technical problems and her music cut out. Probably the worst nightmare for any burlesque performer and I was more than impressed with how wonderfully she dealt with the pause – simply shrugging her shoulders and carrying on with the same enthusiasm and role play – to the delighted cheers and encouragement from all around. Her music returned and she completed her piece with an assured final reveal. Very well done indeed.
After some encouragement and inevitable banter from our host, Carmella De La Minx was introduced as the second performer. Dressed head to toe in black and flawlessly poised, this lady undoubtedly has a dancing background, Ballroom/Latin American I would guess. Her routine was indeed dance based, flirting with paso doble, flamenco and finishing with a tango inspired piece. Impressively producing a rose and a Spanish style fan during her performance she created an air of both romance and mystery whilst managing to hold intense eye contact with various audience members, it was clear this lady meant business. Erupting into a blood curdling scream half way through (scaring the hell out of Miss Jokes and I), her performance had taken an unexpected turn. What impressed me most about Carmella De La Minx was how every beat of her chosen music was met with a choreographed leg placement, extension of an arm or suggestive turning of the head and every musical phase change was mirrored in her expressions and the mood she created. The real skill was that nothing this lady did was predictable, expected or looked over rehearsed (though of course it must have been rehearsed over and over to achieve this).
Again our host appeared this time to introduce the cleverly named Jack The Stripper as our third contestant and extend some advice as to what to write about Carmella De La Minx in my review – yes Barnaby she was ‘well good, and that’. This would be the first ‘boylesque’ performance I had witnessed and was unsure what to expect. An undeniable crowd pleaser, and a lip syncing pro, Jack The Stripper’s confidence poured out of him and his sheer delight and love of performing was clear for all to see. A banjo appeared in the second half of his routine and an amusingly ironic song choice ensured the audience warmed to the man with the boyish looks with ease. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting ‘Jack’ during the interval and he was as laid back and happy as he appeared on stage as well as being highly complimentary of his fellow performers, which was lovely. Safe to say that Miss Jokes and I were more than happy that he would be the one to pop our boylesque cherries.
More wine was delivered to our table by our pleasant waitress and we were shortly informed that the penultimate performance would be from Kitty Ribbons. A role reversal piece ensued with Miss Ribbons appearing as a male gangster character complete with spats and fedora. Another lady with, I am sure, a dancing background, with more rhythm than Ian Dury’s famous stick. I don’t believe this lady would look out of place in a West End musical. Her piece was a definite game of two halves and the diversity she displayed was outstanding, switching between two characters, creating two very different moods. Bloody hell, this was going to be a difficult decision.
The final contestants, ‘Sweet Tease’, were introduced as the first ever double act to compete in Burlesque Idol. An upbeat ho-down began with two attractive young ladies with an obvious zest for the stage. The award for costume(s) of the night would have to be presented to this pair. I had noted a lack of rhinestones, sequins and gems during the evening, glitz and glamour often associated with burlesque, this was quite surprising, though I have to say that the lack of sparkle did not detract from any of the performances. The costumes chosen by these ladies came complete with authentic looking western tassels, chequered petticoat skirts and customised denim jackets with gem encrusted name motifs emblazoned across the rear. The audience were soon clapping in time to the traditional music and the well choreographed piece was a delightful end to the competition.
The second half of the evening included an audience best dressed competition, during which Barnaby Slater was in his element gently ridiculing the participants and encouraging even more interaction, plus performances from two of the judges.
I have to confess to never hearing of the first judge to quite literally hit the stage, Go-Go Harder, but he is certainly somebody I would pay to see perform again. A seasoned pro with a dazzling costume and a smile to match, impeccable comedy timing with oodles of charm. A master, who owned his audience. I have been privileged to observe the second judge, Tempest Rose, in performance mode before and again she did not disappoint. Oozing glamour and sophistication, Miss Rose knew exactly what she was doing and took every suggestive step in her stride. She does not impose herself on her audience, her poise and manner instead draw you in, not wanting to glance away for a second and her facial expressions always suggest that she knows something that you, my dear, do not.
Up next was the surprise comedian of the evening Jeff Leach and as Miss Jokes commented – he smashed it. The audience were now well and truly intoxicated and many had left their inhibitions far enough behind to interact with our guest, when invited to and when they simply felt like it. He dealt with these interruptions brilliantly and seemed to relish and enjoy them, feeding off the expectations of the crowd. He cracked the formula of explaining already funny situations with funny commentary and was crude, but not too crude, in choosing his subjects – just right for his audience.
The end was nigh and the winner was finally announced to be Carmel De La Minx, well deserved and many congratulations to this lovely lady. The next round of this thoroughly enjoyable event will take place on Friday May 27th.
Before I sign off to buy my tickets for next month, a special mention for Gracie, the stage maid who also had the job of rounding up the ‘best dressed’ contestants. Miss Gracie is clearly an integral part of the show and she is a really sweet girl who looked divine in her sympathetic backround-esque costume.
Remember to check out our range of burlesque clothing. Love love xx