Admittedly this reviewer may not be the target demographic for the House of Burlesque’s Shipwrecked show, but it’s hard to be offended by what’s going on on-stage. Forget seedy Soho, this is grounded just around the corner at the London Palladium and Val Parnell’s Tiller Girls, circa 1965. In all honesty, those fortunate enough to have sailed on a cruise ship will probably have seen twirling nipple tassels and ”Pan’s People” choreography before, and so there’s little to shock or affront.
The scenario is rice paper-thin but hardly crucial to the proceedings: the show’s MC Miss Tempest Rose and her troupe have set sail across the Tropics. A storm ensues and they’re washed up on a desert island where every conceivable conceit is used to have them disrobe slowly and gyrate across the stage.
Now, the gyrations in question are beautifully executed but, to be honest, it’s all a bit tame and a curiosity from a bygone age of movie starlets and seamed stockings. Does Burlesque have an audience in the street-savvy 21st Century? Judging from the near capacity audience at Bury St Edmunds’ Theatre Royal, it clearly does.
However, it you’re promising a spectacular, then it has to be spectacular in order to compete with other forms of entertainment; the production values of Shipwrecked let it down, resulting in a subdued feel to the evening. Lighting is flat and uninspired, sound is poorly click-tracked, and there’s little pace to speak of in the segues.
Even for a touring production, the set is a lacklustre frame for the seaside postcard bawdiness happening on stage. One’s heart goes out to the performers; the audience in a market town Georgian theatre doesn’t quite know what to expect or how to react. Attempts to solicit responses fall ominously flat.
There are two whirlpools of turbulence amid the becalmed ocean surrounding the Isle of Temptation – dancer and cabaret artist Abi Collins as acid-tongued New York Latino, Angel Rodriguez, and her alter-alter-ego, Peggy Sued, steal the show with two smut-laden and hilarious circus routines that mercilessly uses members of the audience as foils to tremendous effect and gives this show some much-needed bump and grind.
This review possibly seems more damning than is deserved. It’s simply that Burlesque as an art form needs to be presented at full throttle to keep it alive. While there’s some genuine entertainment value here trying to get out and shimmy its way into the audience’s hearts, the slightly tacky presentation of Shipwrecked barely keeps it afloat.