Its not all about the tits!


It seems strange to review a West End production here on Dontstopthepop, but Polly Rae's burlesque extravaganza is a show that re-examines the genre we softly generalize as "popular music" and re-constructs the hits much in the same fashion as Glee. But that's just half the story. The All New Hurly Burly show is like nothing out there. For me, the red thread running through the show is a delicate narrative in which director William Baker takes the audience on a global journey of the world using the artform of burlesque as his chosen language and Polly Rae as his interpreter. We the audience go from a posh British boarding school during Polly's brilliantly rude Hit Me Baby One More Time, through a beautiful exploration of 1920's Japan in the stunning Umbrella/Hung Up medley, over to Pittsburgh in the effervescent Flashdance, into 1970's London in the gloriously punky Fuck Off, New York's Cotton Club in I Must Have That Man all the way into the very heart of the French palace of Versailles during Bad Romance. Yes, with Polly Rae as the audience's pilot we go down every nook and cranny imaginable. It is truly the world's first ever global exploration of burlesque using contemporary pop music. And even this description sells it short. For Polly Rae does something few within burlesque have done before: she sings too!


It starts with an amazing version of It's A Sin. Notions of the Pet Shop Boys original song slowly ebbs away as Mother Superior rides her crucifix and sings her take on the 1980's ode to shame, intolerance and bigotry. I can no longer hear the original without seeing Polly Rae rise from the floorboards and ripping up a picture of the grandest frock-wearer of western civilization: the pope. From this moment on, we're herded on board the Polly Rae private jet arriving at nearly every landing strip that one can squeeze into the flight-time allotted. And there's a lot of squeezing.

For me the three pillars of the show are Steve Anderson's arrangements, William Baker's direction and Polly Rae herself. After the interval, there are two medleys that leave the audience with their mouths open, lips moist and ears outrageously fulfilled. These for me illustrate the amazing skill of Anderson's arrangements in the show. Kylie fans will have heard Anderson's productions during the last eight, yes eight, Kylie tours where massive songs become epic saga's of Homeric proportions. Take for instance the medley of Japanese Boy (Aneka), Hung Up (Madonna) and Umbrella (Rihanna). This part is not only a feast for the eyes, but the manner in which Anderson interweaves the compositions simply breaks the mold. I can no longer hear the tracks individually: they now exist in Anderson's triumvirate form. Without Japanese Boy leading into Hung Up and then flourishing into Umbrella the three never realize their potential in isolation. This is the power of the medley and Andersons ability to fuse the songs together. The music of the show radiates out of The Garrick and shines into the neon skyline of London's West End.


This part of the show also conveys the brilliance of William Baker's direction (and Ashley Wallen's choreography). The stage invites the eyes into a Japanese garden, of say, the 1920s. A time which saw Japan see unprecedented prosperity and what is known as the Taishō Democracy. Polly Rae gently unwraps her azure irotomesode kimono with coy fluidity and telling exuberance where you can almost imagine the cherry blossom sakura flowers dance in the wind. It's breathtakingly beautiful. The lighting itself sparkles around the audience and stage ensuring we are not merely watching the performance unfold from afar isolated in our seats but instead seem actually invited as part of the experience.


Bakers collaborative work with the shows lighting designers creates a powerful sense of intimacy so the stage is not flooded with light but carefully outlined so as to guarantee the beautiful nuances of Polly Rae's art are not just seen but also felt. In this way, the sumptuous tableaux of burlesque that are presented and constructed by William Baker and Polly Rae shift between lush luminosity and erotic penumbra. Baker utilizes this so cleverly that there's one moment in the show when the audience find themselves under the spell of a slowly disrobing sailor boy only to find their desire and notions of masculinity subverted.



Last Sunday I saw something else unfolding in front of me. Whether it be during Polly's quirky moments like her hilarious original song It's Not About The Tits or more songbird moments like I Must Have That Man, I was lifted by Polly's voice. It resonates with a beautiful vibrato bringing to mind my time favourite singers Blossom Dearie mixed in with the tender tones of Peggy Lee. I walked out the theatre feeling I'd seen and heard a show by a singer at its very core. The burlesque aspect is a brilliant icing on the cake. The smile of the show was its singer Polly Rae. And that's what I walked out with. A massive, large, gargantuan and rather throbbing memory of Polly Rae entering her stage, taking to the spotlight and singing her heart out.

The All New Hurly Burly Show
Starring Polly Rae
At The Garrick Theatre
Until 1st May
Tickets

2 comments:

Paul said...

ok so essentially quite excited about this. Life gets in the way too often of trips to London so i really must make the effort :)

William said...

Hello! I noticed back in 2008 that you had made a post about Loveshy and mentioned their song "Power of Music". I can't download it and I am going to ask you a gigantic favor. I know I'm a stranger so what right do I have to ask for a favor? But it would mean so much to me.

I was wondering if you could please upload "Power of Music" for me on a file download site like filesonic.com or megaupload.com, or even Youtube!, or e-mail it to me at william.blair@live.com?

Please please from a music fan to another, power of music across the great divide breaking down barriers a bridge between two sides! It would mean so much to me! Thank you very much and I hope you are having a good day!