Date Reviewed: 26th May, 2009
Venue: The Spiegeltent
The 2009 Queer Up North Festival ends in suitable style and enthusiasm. For all the desire to push boundaries and even shock, there is an old-fashioned aspect to the Finale. These are people who have worked hard to perfect their craft and can now perform, for our entertainment and with apparent ease, acts which at times are dangerous.
Despite the professionalism there are still pleasantly rough edges - an inappropriately raucous introduction to a tender ballad or the Forget Me Nots cracking up when watching one of the other acts. The Finale shows off the strengths and reveals the weaknesses of the Spiegeltent. Bags of atmosphere but rotten sightlines obscuring parts of the show.
The 2009 Festival has been very well organised and that applies also to the Finale. Instead of the acts performing individually they mix together allowing true variety.
Julia Atlas Muse is a late addition to the bill and the only act who hasn’t quite left behind her novelty status entirely. Neither of her acts - involving climbing inside an enormous balloon and being attacked by a disembodied hand - achieve the target of being unusual and funny at the same time.
Marcella Puppini and her eight-piece backing band The Forget Me Nots are unlikely to be forgotten as they are visually striking. Puppini looks like an S&M version of Joyce Grenfell and her band, in white vests, dark pants, braces and berets are a dream. The music is cabaret style but, as if aware that the audience is unfamiliar with her material, Puppini restrains her voice to ensure that the lyrics are audible. The effect is less dramatic than the songs - tales of cosmetic surgery and discipline - deserve.
It is always hard to convey the impact of acrobatics in print as the actions sound so ordinary until you take into account that they are being performed over the heads of the audience and without a net. The two performances by Empress Stah are quite distinct. The first is almost innocently saucy and the second deeply erotic. Both are excellent.
Ursula Martinez closes the first half and opens the second part of the Finale. Her Hanky Panky routine is now internet legend but seen live what surprises is her commitment to both aspects of the act. The magic routine, where a hanky vanishes and reappears under her clothes requiring her to strip, is impressive as it is clearly not up her sleeve - she has none.
The strip is performed with full bump and grind moves to reveal the shocking final location of the hanky. Hamming up her heritage, Martinez opens part two with a lengthy sequence teaching us to talk dirty in Spanish before acknowledging that she was born in Croydon but finds a degree of ethnicity a cynical advantage. It is hilarious.
Miss Behave works hard as MC. Bigging up the other performers and organising the audience when not centre stage. All aspects of her act -from swallowing swords and chair legs to whipping away a table cloth without disturbing the settings - are performed with self-deprecating charm and humour. Her stage banter is as sharp as her sword.
At one point Miss Behave describes the show as Not so much a ‘Wow’ as a ‘Why?’
The Queer Up North Finale is most definitely a ‘Wow’.