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Torquay Tease: The Rise of Kinky & Quirky (UK Burlesque)

Ivy Wilde Apr 4
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In 2007 a chance chat via a MySpace page brought Sarah and Mark Bell together. Eight weeks later Mark moved to Devon from Wales and a month later Kinky & Quirky was born. Nine years on and Kinky & Quirky is known for its jaw-dropping events with the cream of the crop in variety, cabaret and burlesque. As quoted from a punter back in 2013: “In short: Kinky & Quirky is bawdy and naughty, Kinky & Quirky is side-splittingly funny, Kinky & Quirky is delicately beautiful, Kinky & Quirky is simply unmissable.”

I spoke to Sarah Bell to find out more.

Ivy Wilde: Tell me how it all began.

Sarah Bell: Our first Kinky & Quirky was in a 1960s ballroom in the basement of a hotel in Torquay. It was a real find, dark and retro with red seating and original 60s light fittings – it had the feel of a Soho basement club that might have been featured in an indie British film. We wanted the event to be a mixture of acts in a very different venue because it seemed to us that there wasn’t anywhere to go out in our hometown that showcased a mixture of subcultures, was alternative or wasn’t aimed at 19 year olds.

Esquire De Lune at Kinky & Quirky in Torquay, Devon. Photo by Alex Small

Esquire De Lune at Kinky & Quirky in Torquay, Devon. Photo by Alex Small

We had  two local bands, one grungy covers band called Live Sex Show whose lead singer was known as Naked Dave (for all the reasons you can imagine!) and a punky folk band called Fat Lab, as well as three girls who had just started performing together as burlesque dancers, The Sugar Belles. The whole night was organized because it was my birthday and, in addition to our own friends, we sold tickets and about 100 people who we didn’t know came. We realised that we had put on an event that was really needed in our area because the people that came were so diverse and they didn’t have anywhere else to go out.

 

How did the shows progress into the burlesque, cabaret and variety that you’re so well known for now?

In these early days the emphasis was very much on a mix of live music, performance poetry and such with only a little burlesque. This was quite simply because there just weren’t any performers in our area and our budget was minimal, but in April of 2008 two things happened: the first was that we went to the London Burlesque Festival at Bush Hall. It was a huge eye opener because it introduced us to a wealth of amazing performers; we saw Anna Fur Laxis, Crimson Skye, Rose Thorn, Honey Lulu, Venus Noir, Chrys Columbine, Armitage Shanks and a host of other acts who were upcoming at that time including Coco Deville, Cha Cha Boom Boom, and Femme Ferale. When we came back from that weekend we knew we wanted to go from putting on the small events that we were doing to bringing down that level of performer to Devon – to really do something that no one else was doing at all south of Bristol. Then the second thing happened – a week later we found out I was pregnant!

Eliza Delite at Kinky & Quirky in Torquay, Devon. Photo by Alex Small

Eliza Delite at Kinky & Quirky in Torquay, Devon. Photo by Alex Small

The process of building the events grew at about the same pace as my bump and six weeks after our daughter was born we sold out our first big event in Exeter and 250 people enjoyed our Valentine’s 2009 show and we never looked back!

We are based in South Devon in the small seaside town of Torquay, and the bulk of our shows have been here but we have also produced shows in our nearest city Exeter and a little further up the coast in another even smaller seaside town, Exmouth. We are extremely proud that many of the biggest names in the UK scene and some big international performers have spent time in our bit of the seaside – we’re a long way from any bright lights and big cities but we’ve created a wonderful haven for an audience who crave more than the usual seedy seaside ‘cabaret’ shows with an ageing singer, bingo and a dodgy comedian.

 

How important is the mix of burlesque, variety and cabaret to your show?

Kinky & Quirky has always been about a mix – possibly because it wasn’t set up as a burlesque show. It has always been about people, so if the audience is made up of a diverse demographic then it stands that the show will need to be too. We both have a different take on the styles of acts, music, comedy, fashion and arts we enjoy, but what is key to us is the quality. We look for belly laugh funny, jaw dropping sexy, innovative, original, inspiring, unforgettable – acts that have an impact.

Havana Hurricane at Kinky & Quirky in Torquay, Devon. Photo by Alex Small

Havana Hurricane at Kinky & Quirky in Torquay, Devon. Photo by Alex Small

We think that the art of the golden era of entertainment in all genres has been watered down but think that burlesque in the 21st century has re-introduced that to some degree. Certainly our audiences love dressing up, being taken to their tables, dancing to great music,  the special treatment and the attention to detail, and if we’re selling a ‘show’ we believe it’s our obligation as producers and promoters to give the paying audience the best show we can.

 

It must be amazing to look back at how you have grown since the early days.

We did a headcount recently with over 33,000 tickets sold and we just produced our 96th show so we took the time to reflect on our journey to date. We have worked with some amazing performers and seen some incredible acts; crying at Vicky Butterfly’s giant moon, astounded by Anna Fur Laxis’ Burlesque Hall of Fame act ‘The Prestige’, transfixed by Laurie Hagen’s reverse striptease, belly laughing at Dave the Bear (every time we’ve had him), an audience of rather conservative ladies singing Creep with Joe Black, a standing ovation of nearly 1,000 people for Craig the Incredible Hula Boy’s ‘Over The Rainbow’, the side-splitting brilliance of both Nanny Dora and Duncan Donut  and the awed silence at Beatrix Von Bourbon’s ‘Venus in Furs’. These are just the tip of the iceberg – there really have been so many – however Kinky & Quirky is not just about the performers.

Raven Noir at Kinky & Quirky in Torquay, Devon. Photo by Alex Small

Raven Noir at Kinky & Quirky in Torquay, Devon. Photo by Alex Small

We looked back at things like thank you letters and emails after we’ve had hen parties, retirement parties, birthday parties. We’ve had people who have met through Kinky & Quirky and are now in relationships, we had a couple who told us that their baby was conceived after one of our Valentine shows, and we had a man who wanted to propose to his girlfriend on our stage. There’s a lot of love in the Kinky & Quirky community.

Curtain Call at Kinky & Quirky in Torquay, Devon. Photo by Alex Small

Curtain Call at Kinky & Quirky in Torquay, Devon. Photo by Alex Small

We have produced small intimate cabaret shows, had two residencies, produced larger scale cabaret shows, been at crazy university balls, at festivals, produced three day weekenders and Christmas sleepovers and then upscaled to 1,000 seater spaces – but right from the outset, from our very first party way back in 2007, we have only ever wanted one thing: our own venue. That’s our future.

To find out more about Kinky & Quirky visit their website, like their Facebook page and follow their tweets.

Interview by Ivy Wilde.

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