Monday, May 12, 2008

Monkey, Top Hat, Bicycle

This is my favourite snap from a weekend of cultural and social delights, that was also blessed with blissful uninterrupted sunshine. Part of the Le Scandal troupe, currently playing nightly at the Udderbelly, Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey were by far the best act in the show. Billed as 'The Rock Star of NYC’s Burlesque Scene', Le Scandal is certainly a cut above many of the shonky 'Nu-Burlesque' cabaret nights that have been popping up all over the place lately, especially here in Brighton.

When it's done well, Variety can be a fantastic night out, unfortunately though it's all too often a disappointment these days. What you want is a selection of short punchy acts, offering drama, comedy, dexterity and titillation by equal measure. Le Scandal certainly ticks some of these boxes, but is let down by its compere - an ageing, addled showgirl who still insists on claiming the finale spot for her own pathos-inducing striptease. Imagine watching your own mother drunkenly undressing at a party and you will be pretty much there. I was reminded of the classic Clinton Ford/George Formby Song 'Fanlight Fanny' (click for lyrics), which she should have used as her backing music - at least then it might have been comical rather than cringe-making.

The other acts included a cocky fresh-faced juggler, a 1930s fandancer, an aerial acrobat trio, an escapologist/magic number-cruncher and a house jazz band. All in all it wasn't a bad show, but it did suffer from being staged in the soul-less Udderbelly. This type of vaudeville demands a certain conspiratorial intimacy that is never going to happen in such a big blank space. But it was worth seeing just for these two hilarious comic-acrobats - see for yourself on this YouTube video.

On Saturday we spent the day shopping for costume bits for an upcoming fancy dress party, and I treated myself to a proper top hat, which I then wore around town for about ten minutes before feeling far too pretentious/mad/hot to continue. We managed to get returns for Rider Spoke, an interactive media arts installation that sends you off on a spontaneous cycle tour of the city. You are supplied with a pocket computer and headset, and encouraged along by a soothing female voice, which tells you to find 'hiding places' in which to answer a series of questions. There is no set route - it is more about letting your emotions and reactions to the questions guide you. Previous participants' messages are also recorded for you to 'eavesdrop' as you go. I particularly enjoyed one guy's amusing account of a party at which someone had spiked the fondue with acid. I wish my contributions had been as witty, but all my questions were fairly serious ones, and I felt unusually self-conscious when recording my answers. It was the first time I had been back on my bike since falling off and breaking my jaw last August, and I felt in a celebratory mood afterwards, so we washed down our supper at Bill's with a rather lovely bottle of Breaky Bottom Kir Royal.

Sunday's cultural activities kicked off with a literary talk at the Old Market from my old friend and colleague Caroline Lawrence - the author of the popular Roman Mysteries series. Once she had finished signing books for an eager queue of fans, we headed to the beach for an ice-cream and long-overdue catch up.

Perhaps the most highbrow of all our festival outings was a Vaughan Williams anniversary concert at the Dome on Sunday evening. The good thing about classical music is that if you close your eyes, people just think you're getting really into it. I'm not averse to classical music in general, especially the choral or operatic variety, but this selection did nothing for me. The first half had its moments, especially when the choir was in full swing, but I'm afraid I found myself drifting off and thinking about the laundry and other domestic checklists throughout most of the second half. A gloomy music drama based on J.M. Synge's play about a grief-stricken Irish fishing community, I found it an odd choice for a concert performance.

To raise our spirits, and put a more jolly end to our fun-packed weekend, we popped into the Parlure Spiegelgarden for a drink on the way home, and bumped into a couple of friends on their way in to see Los Albertos. The barmaids were all kitted out in fantastic corsets and frilly pants, in keeping with the burlesque feel of the venue. Rather unfairly though (for me), the barmens' uniforms consisted only of a dress shirt over casual trousers. Surely they could at the very least have given them bow-ties, or ideally something along these lines, in tribute to the Spiegeltent's most famous show, La Clique. Just a thought.


  1. Of course the whole song makes much more sense as 'Fandance Fanny', as Clinton Ford originally recorded it, but I suspect it was sanitised for sensitive ears.

    'Fanlight Fanny' makes as much sense as 'Mock Neo-Georgian Porch Fanny'- though that might apply in this case also.

  2. Actually I think it was originally recorded as 'Fanlight' Fanny, by George Formby, then changed later to 'Fan Dance'. Who knows why?


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