The Illicit Thrill
Burlesque goes to the dark side with uncompromising and challenging eroticism at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
This article is from 2014.
Gypsy Charms is one of the original pioneers of the burlesque revival in Scotland: through her teaching, she inspired a generation of performers. The Illicit Thrill keeps her ahead of the pack, lending burlesque a darker, sleazier energy that is likely to challenge audiences and reopen difficult questions about the politics of burlesque. Harking back to the old strip clubs, she employs a live band, an aesthetic from lap-dancing and a confrontational manner to bring an uncomfortable, uncompromising eroticism.
Charms as the host is a revelation: frightening, unashamedly sexual and provoking the audience by insisting on their complicity. This is not the tasteful burlesque that hides behind tassels, empowerment and irony. Instead, there is full-frontal nudity, repeated reminders that the intimacy on display is an act and almost brutal audience interaction.
The intensity even feels dangerous – a quality long since absence from the ritual of much cabaret – as the strippers pace the audience, singing and teasing and taking the money. By the time Betty Grumble charges on stage, does a gender twisting routine and places a sparkler in her bottom, The Illicit Thrill has reclaimed filthy sexuality for the stage, and ran with it.
It's likely to be controversial, since it denies the rhetoric of feminist empowerment for something more disturbing. While the stag night lads love it, it makes tough challenges to respectable assumptions about desire and power-relationships between the sexes, and walks a tightrope as it shocks and surprises: through the individual acts, Charms has found a distinctive cabaret that is rough, funny and unashamed of itself.
The Voodoo Rooms, 556 7060, 7–10, 14–17, 21–24 Aug, 11.40pm, £8.