Reviews West End & Central Published 11 July 2012

The Hurly Burly Show

Duchess Theatre ⋄ 13th July - 22nd September 2012

Pop-erotica with a blunt edge.

Stewart Pringle

The Hurly Burly’s back. Romping across London from a Soho revue bar to the Garrick in a mere five years, their West End showcase has been refined since it’s lukewarm reception last year and arrives at the Duchess to give the Olympic crowds something to ogle when the gymnasts are having a day off. It’s shed a male crooner since its last visit, and burlesque superstar and Hurly-founder Miss Polly Rae has been thrust centre-stage, but this is still an old-fashioned evening of ‘naughty but nice’ disrobing and dance.

Its sense of fun is predicated on an innocent approach to sex and sexuality. Sex is constructed as a rule-free playground for the emanation of concealed fantasies and desires. Personas and sexualities are flaunted and discarded as casually as corsets, life is a never-ending, ever-youthful pleasure plateau and death and the orgasm are checked at the door.

This ‘contemporary burlesque’ is no radical re-imagining of the form. Utterly apolitical, The Hurly Burly Show owes nothing to the concept of ‘burlesquing’ existing power structures or using sex as a fulcrum for satire, rather it is a refinement of burlesque’s glitziest, titziest aspects.

It begins with an introduction to the ‘Hurly Burly Girls’, complete with pun-tastic Bond-girls-on-poppers monikers, who joke variously about their tiny/massive vaginas, whether they do/don’t like anal and if they have/haven’t just given oral sex to a stage-hand. The gags never improve, but they’re strong dancers and singers and after a while the relentless nudge-nudgery of the humour starts to develop its own bizarre internal logic.

The remainder of the evening is broken into a dozen or so high-concept burlesque routines, which run the well-worn gamut from naughty schoolgirl to sexy aerobics class.

There’s the bit with the girl covered in balloons and the first act climaxes (you heard) with a fantastic old-school fan dance by Rae. The move from the forgettable opening number (one of two or three original compositions) to a jukebox format is sadly rather welcome, with the segments wittily soundtracked to sort-of-steamy hits like ‘It’s a Sin’ and ‘…Baby One More Time’. It’s an unimaginative approach, but it contributes to an unchallenging good-time atmosphere that goes down easily (if you know what I mean – damn it, this is catching.)

There’s a disappointing lack of true subversion: the kink is Anne Summers approved and though a latex nun dominatrix brings a momentary frisson of blasphemous daring, it’s soon buried under the sort of S&MTV pop-erotica to which you could safely bring your gran.

That’s not to suggest that there isn’t fun to be had. Though Rae is a touch less charismatic than her queen bee profile would suggest, the evening is hosted by the warm and engaging Coco Dubois, who manages a smattering of audience interaction and an achingly flimsy structure with great panache. She’s instantly likeable and helps collapse the rather gaping void between the performers and the audience which is created by the Hurly Burly’s importation to the West End. There are still moments, however, when it becomes clear that a routine that would be show-stopping in a dingy cabaret bar is merely par for the course in a theatre like the Duchess. It’s hard to shake the suspicion that with an inch more flesh covered – not to mention six inches of crystal-encrusted dildo – we could be watching almost any chorus line within a two-mile radius. Still, Alan Macdonald’s design cannot be faulted, and between William Baker’s confident direction and Ashley Warren’s playfully filthy choreography, the production values are razor sharp.

Ironically, where this burlesque really falls down is a lack of variety. It’s probably titillating enough for anyone capable of tumescence in a Nimax theatre, but there’s nothing to break up the relentless undressing of eight women who weren’t really wearing much in the first place. It feels strange to watch a pair of gyrating buttocks and have your mind drift to ventriloquists, and how much you like ventriloquists, and that it’s a shame there aren’t any ventriloquists in this. Or magicians. Or comedians. Or even male dancers. The Hurly Burly crew obviously have their shtick and they run an admirably purist evening of tittering tease, but more diversity would be welcome, and give the uniformly excellent dance numbers a bit more definition.

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Stewart Pringle

Writer of this and that and critic for here and there. Artistic director of the Old Red Lion Theatre.

The Hurly Burly Show Show Info


Directed by William Baker

Cast includes Miss Polly Rae, Coco Dubois

Running Time 2 hrs 15 mins (including interval)

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