The club plays a big part in the event’s success, boasting terrific atmosphere with cabaret seating around a central catwalk, Chinese lanterns, vintage timber floor and pressed metal ceiling, and some of the friendliest door and bar staff you could hope to exchange greetings with.
Created by Jackie Smith and Moira Finucane, the show — it goes longer than an hour, thankfully — shatters the stereotypical notions of striptease, burlesque, nudity and female sexuality.
In the show we saw, Finucane was the lynchpin, carrying the politics from the catwalk to the back row with balloon-bursting ease. Her bag lady ascending to heaven was a truly poignant display in a night of great variety.
The Angels’ ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ was destroyed by having a woman in showgirl feathered bikini carrying the tune; same again with gender-inverting drag queen-lip synced opener The Divinyls’ ‘I Touch Myself’. Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ was put to art snob-bashing good use, with a tip of the hat to the water wall at NGV as well as Poe’s ‘The Raven’, and a Flashdance-esque saturation to boot. The front rows looked pensive when the pre-song umbrellas and plastic sheets were handed out, and again when the second act set a cracking start thanks to a whip-wielding Sosina Wogayehu in dominatrix mode.
Thing was, Finucane does not conform to magazine cover concepts of celebrity good looks — no facelift, no perky tits, no Brazilian. She was, if memory serves, the only performer to appear fully naked.
The staging was superb throughout, simple but striking: cigarette smoke through black cloth, streamers of green cloth, black blood splattering naked flesh.
Elsewhere, there were heavy metal dance routines from Holly Durant and Harriet Ritchie and sheer, strawberry-flavoured elegance from MC Maude Davey.
Davey added a fine note of sexual politics by appearing nude but for long gloves, headpiece and extensive necklace while singing ‘I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl’: such a crack-up to see a naked woman flirting over the removal by teeth of one of said gloves, even as the song’s metaphor was literally stripped.
And there was Meow Meow, cabaret star par excellence who dazzled with an amazing range and theatrical presence, adroit at audience interaction, humour and pathos. In one of her three numbers, she out-Palmered her friend Amanda with a rendition of Dresden Dolls’ ‘Missed Me’. She was the latest guest artist to appear in the show’s nine-week run, ending next month.
Meow Meow appears later this year at the Malthouse in Little Match Girl.
The Burlesque Hour shattered expectations, unleashed beauty and the beast in the one package, and provided food for thought to take home. Yes, burlesque sure looks different down in the basement. I hope the hour strikes again soon.