Hosted by ‘Naked Stand Up’ Miss Glory Pearl, this Brighton Fringe show blends the international literary salon Naked Girls Reading with the more traditional burlesque routines of London’s Burlexe in a light-hearted but passionate plea to ‘exalt rather than scandalize’ the female body. ‘We are artists, comedians, politicians’, Miss Pearl notes – but above all, they are in charge.
The first half is fairly straightforward burlesque; Miss Pearl and her fellow performers (Fancy Chance and Holli Dillon) each do various routines, while voicing the stories of famous figures in the medium’s history. It’s done with vivacity and humour, but varying degrees of slickness – if you like your burlesque with Dita von Teese levels of polish and props, you might be disappointed.
The second half it does what it says on the tin: naked women reading. The three performers all read a couple of texts, each chosen smartly: excerpts from Von Teese’s book on the history of the art form, a vintage guide to stripping ‘for your husband’, an outraged letter to the newspapers about ‘the blondes’ on stage who have no talent and get by on their disreputable behaviour.
Here, too, results are variable, some readings practised, some feeling unrehearsed, though that merely adds to their charm and spontaneity, as they occasionally stumble over pronunciations or fumble with the text. When all three read aloud a vintage comedy routine, they can barely get through it, breaking down at how awful and unfunny it is, and you can’t help but join in their laughter. This half could be a little tighter – it starts to drag towards the end, and some of the readings are more compelling than others, but overall, it’s engaging.
In a way, it’s an odd juxtaposition. While neo-burlesque is all about the celebration of the female body, encouraging us to enjoy it in all of its permutations, and focus more on the skill and personality of the performers than whether they are toned and slim and perfect, it is also very much about looking. The women may control the direction of our gaze – there’s a degree of sleight of hand in the best routines – but they definitely encourage it. It’s entertainment built on glamour and deliberate sexiness, the body as art and allurement. It is, after all, a strip tease.
Naked Girls Reading could easily be considered the opposite: it’s nudity made mundane. There’s a natural frisson when the three women walk on stage and shed their robes, but within minutes you pretty much forget they are naked, caught up in their readings, joining in their jokes. It’s safe and unthreatening, Calendar Girls level nudity: the kind of thing you can imagine the WI doing to raise money instead of a bake sale – a little bit saucy, but ultimately good clean fun.
It’s a combination that works surprisingly well; perhaps because it speaks to the multiplicity of women’s bodies and their sexuality, when they are gloriously in command of them: nakedness can be sexy and provocative if they choose it to be, or sometimes it can just be a body, a vessel to be comfortable in when you sit down and read a book. While the show avoids heavy handed symbolism or preachiness, it’s this celebration of female autonomy – rather than mere anatomy – that makes it such a refreshing and enjoyable evening.
For more of the Brighton Fringe programme, click here.