Between the Sheets is a highly enjoyable demonstration of what is possible when creative freedom, loving friendship and tremendous talent are combined and given the space to work.
I saw the first run of Between the Sheets last year, shortly after seeing Polly Rae in The Hurly Burly Show, and some of the concerns I had about Polly and her role in the West End production made Between the Sheets tremendously satisfying to watch. The show was put together in a matter of days, and yet it was so smooth, well planned and paced, with a warmth and charm that cannot be acted or created. Intelligent, gifted and funny women with beautiful physicality and charisma, fully in control, having the time of their lives together on stage, and thoroughly entertaining us at the same time.
I returned to review this year’s run in May with my partner in crime for the evening, Dirty Martini. The show returns to the Matcham Room at the Hippodrome Casino, and I think it’s a great space, furnished in an attractive purple, with a pleasant ambiance. The staff deserve a mention; each time I visit they are polite, attentive and sociable. It is intimate, with a good view from every table but enough space for audience interaction, group numbers, a fire act and Chinese Pole. The cast used the audience space and the stage space well, involving the audience and drawing them in for the onstage numbers.
Our hostess, Miss Polly Rae, was in good voice, relaxed and in command throughout. It was gratifying to see her so comfortable; she radiated happiness and enjoyment. When I saw Between the Sheets last year, it was obvious that this setting suited her and how much happier she was in control of a more intimate and substantial production with friends. Her signature song, It’s Not About the Tits, still goes down a treat, establishing her persona and endearing her to the audience. She led group numbers confidently and interacted well with each member of the cast.
I think the drink stealing, demanding and fire licking Kitty Bang Bang had an extra shot of riot juice before the show; she was even more boisterous, cheeky and frenetic than usual, if that’s possible. But, even at her most riotous there is a backbone of skill and experience. I almost cried with laughter when the residue from her ‘coke balloons’ was being swept up and she dashed back on stage and begged the front table for a napkin. Later, Kitty treated us to some signature fire play, and, while I always appreciate it, I enjoyed the moodier version of it they created last year, with Kitty as a dangerous beauty in a gorgeous gown, and Polly singing the accompaniment. Kitty provides first class entertainment in everything I’ve seen her in, and her facial expressions alone are hysterical.
Laurie Hagen is disgustingly talented and sickeningly clever. As word continues to spread about her exceptional, title winning reverse striptease, I know that some people are attending this show just to see it live. The whole show is of a high standard, but this really feels like the meat in the sandwich. It’s a mesmerising display of precision and innovation, which Laurie and I discussed in detail in a recent in-depth interview. Her segment as host is a complete contrast, playing her slightly unhinged, nymphomaniac persona, Madame Jojo, but just as accomplished and entertaining. Laurie, like Kitty, demonstrates considerable skill in making seemingly frivolous and reckless routines polished and successful.
Phil InGud contributes some male striptease to the evening with a very silly ‘geek logs on with Russian sexpot for webcam sexytimes’ routine. I saw the same routine last year and I thought it was an amusing debut, and he has definitely polished it and grown in confidence. In fact, he’s full of attitude throughout and makes his presence (and general hunkiness) felt in the group numbers too, particularly in an amusing spoof of the well known Virgin Airlines advert. He’s a strong team player and I look forward to future routines to see what he does next.
When I reviewed The Hurly Burly Show last year, I said that I was a little underwhelmed by Sophie Zucchini and wondered how strong an understudy she would be when Polly Rae took time out for the debut of Between the Sheets. In this show, as Madame de Voila, I felt she had a more solid identity and polished version of her previous routine, which came across more strongly on a smaller, intimate stage. She demonstrated impressive, sensual and seemingly effortless flexibility and a smouldering presence. I was disappointed by the way she was used in one of the other numbers, but I’ll get to that shortly.
The charming and handsome Edd Muir turned us all on with his cheeky and successful play on the classic Diet Coke advert, but his amazing strength and physicality make him so much more than just eye candy (although, who doesn’t like a bit of candy? Lucky Millie Dollar!) Burlesque is my speciality, so I’m not a Chinese Pole expert by any means, but this act always impresses and entertains me. Stamina, discipline and charisma shown off in a well constructed act.
Betsy Rose also features during this run, and on this particular evening she performed a military-inspired routine. It’s not my favourite of her numbers; she is by no means an unskilled performer, but I found it a little repetitive and rushed. She is striking and elegant, and I felt her recent performance in Sublime Boudoir, a 1920s routine in a beautiful art deco bespoke gown and lingerie, suited her much better.
Despite the high quality production overall, I have one or two small criticisms. I felt the ‘Beaver’ number – a play on the popular standard Fever – was the weakest number. Unfortunately, on the night I attended, the chosen audience participant had had a bit too much to drink and was rather overfamiliar, but the number itself tries hard to be naughty and funny and mostly fails, especially a particularly crass moment which I could have done without. Madame de Voila didn’t seem to be in a place of power and control, which made it somewhat uncomfortable to watch. Perhaps with a better participant it would have gently embarrassed them, but this guy just seemed to get off on it and that, along with the general weakness of the number, cheapened it in my eyes. Polly Rae and her cast are perfectly capable of being entertainingly naughty and funny, so my criticism is not meant to suggest they are incapable of achieving this. A couple of the connections between acts were obvious filler with little structure. The cast made no secret of this, however, and most of us were happy to laugh along.
The key thing, the lifeblood of this show, is that you are watching delightfully talented best friends have a fabulous time on stage together. I also want to give a nod to Polly’s creative partner Ya Ya, a longtime member of the team who plays an important role behind the scenes and has been responsible for some stunning hair and makeup in past productions. Watching them evolve and flourish over the past six or seven years has been wonderful, and they have thoroughly earned the opportunity to create a show together in a great venue with complete freedom. I could happily watch this show every week, and I encourage you to go and enjoy it if you’re in town.
Reviewed by Holli-Mae Johnson.
Click here to book tickets for Between the Sheets on Wednesday nights at the Soho Burlesque Club, Hippodrome Casino, London.
Click here to book tickets for the new ‘late night’ version of the show on Saturday nights!
Burlesque Hall of Fame / Miss Exotic World Judge, 2011 Holli Mae Johnson is the founder and editor of 21st Century Burlesque Magazine, a pioneering publication created twelve years ago to unite, document and celebrate the global burlesque community. Holli is actively involved in the burlesque community on a day to day basis and is privately consulted by performers and producers at every level for promotion, critique, recommendations and encouragement. As a documenter and critic, she has seen countless burlesque and variety performances from across the world and provides an intimate perspective and insight into the lives and careers of burlesque’s greatest pioneers, performers and personalities.