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Mistresses of Masquerade

Tuesday, 17 August, 2010

Corsets and Tassles

Leicester Square Theatre – 15-18 August, 9pm

Burlesque is a bandwagon that everyone is jumping onto these days. Having moved in a few short years from seedy clubs to the mainstream thanks to the likes of Dita Von Teese and the UK’s own Polly Rae, it seems that anyone can don a corset and a pair of nipple tassles and call themselves a burlesque performer. The Mistresses of Masquerade in the basement of the Leicester Square Theatre , in their production of Lillian Rouge and her Night of Wonders are one such group.

Corsets abound

These six girls decided three months ago to put on a burlesque show, having never performed in that genre before. While they must be applauded for their determination, they perhaps should have first gained some confidence and a bit more insider advice.

The plot of this frilly-knickered odyssey was loosely based upon Little Red Riding Hood, but although there was a girl in a red cape wandering about, it felt a lot more like Bluebeard, with a harem of semi-comatose women pulling off her clothes and preparing her to be ravished by a cane swinging bling king wolf (Shane Windebank) who spent most of his time staring at them from a chair. No one on stage, at least for the first half, appeared to be enjoying themselves. Baring your flesh in front of a bunch of strangers, especially a silent theatre audience (as opposed to the usual cheering crowds who attend cabaret), is admittedly a daunting prospect. Therefore you really need to know how to work a room, have fun, enjoy yourself and most importantly, how to tease. This involves eye contact. Almost without exception, the performers spent the forty minutes on stage staring at the ground or at each other, with barely a batted eyelash, a knowing look or even a nod to the onlookers.

Things perked up a bit when Windebank, clearly an accomplished dancer, stripped to the waist and started strutting his stuff, then launched into a tango with Monica Hopley as Red Riding Hood. This was followed by a classic fan dance and at last a sense of fun began to pervade. However, there were times when the whole thing slipped into soft porn, particularly when Marie Favre, one of the stronger performers with her enigmatic smile, luscious hair and thong draped herself across the wolf while he ran his hands pretty much wherever he wanted. It was a pity that her obvious skill was lost in the folds of sheer X-rated action.

There is a lot of potential in this production and this group. Especially noticeable is Lucy Lawrence who actually looked as if she was having a good time and gave a fantastic rendition of ‘I Put a Spell on You,’ and Aimee Hoad with her magnificent cleavage and equally strident voice. Every single one of the group is sick-makingly attractive but the only one who seems aware of this is Shane Windebank.  They need to learn to let go, to relish the Sapphic touches that are currently delivered too half-heartedly to have an impact; to stop hiding behind furniture when removing their underwear and not to get dressed again after the reveal. The tease can be dragged out over a long period of time, but once it is gone, it is gone. The trick then is to think of something else to do and to find another way to titillate.  Fumbling with fastenings, though not much of an issue, could also be helped by a few poppers inserted by a knowing wardrobe mistress (or master).

If they relax, have fun, and lose some of the heavy petting, this troupe will be a good outfit. At the moment however, the Mistresses of Masquerade still seem more like novices.

Cast: Susan Ahern, Hayley Barrett, Marie Favre, Aimee Hoad, Monica Hopley, Lucy Lawrence, Shane Windebank

Written and Directed by Jon Max Spatz; In Association with: Signature Pictures; Music: Monica Hopley; Production Designer: Tom Knight; Director of Photography: Jodie Southgate; Choreographer: Aimee Hoad; Producers: Marie Favre and Aimee Hoad

Reviewed 16 August

(c) Philippa Tatham 2010

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