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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Hurly Burly Show
Garrick Theatre Spring 2011; Duchess Theatre Summer 2012

(Reviewed first at the Garrick; Scroll down for review of the 2012 revival)

Dancer-impresario Polly Rae has been staging strip shows in Soho clubs and fringe theatres for a few years, and here fulfils her vision of a more mainstream type of stripping, with the emphasis at least as much on the glitz and glamour as the T and A. 

The result is not really a West End show, but a fair and moderately entertaining evocation of what you might have seen in the days of big nightclubs like the Hippodrome or Latin Quarter. 

One point to make from the start is that you shouldn't come looking for cheap thrills, or stay away out of fear of being morally offended. The Hurly Burly Girls spend most of the evening wearing more than they probably wear on the beach, and a few moments in G-strings and pasties, while the star as often as not strips down no further than the point at which they began.

And there's also an inescapable element of diminishing returns. Once they've taken off their clothes the first time, there aren't many surprises left; they're just going to get dressed and do it again. 

Knowing this, Polly Rae has been wise enough to realise that it's not where you finish, but where you start, and her turns are really more about what goes on before she takes things off. So we get a Marie Antoinette number, a Japanese parasol dance, a naughty nun, a stern schoolmistress chastising her naughty students, and the like. And in each case it is the song and dance that precede the strip that offer the real fun. 

Rae is a good singer and mover, with a kittenish charm and sly sense of ironic distance from what she's doing - imagine a younger, slimmer, sexier Mae West - and you sense that she really doesn't need the stripping. (I can imagine her in either of the star roles in Chicago, for instance.) 

She and director William Baker (veteran of Kylie Minogue arena shows) have created sequences that send up the whole concept of burlesque while celebrating it, like a sensual writhing-on-the-bed version of Michael Jackson's 'Bad' or a 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' that goes the extra step Brittney wasn't allowed to. 

Polly Rae's self-written 'It's Not About The Tits' is a clever patter song, her version of 'Love For Sale' is genuinely sexy, and she closes the show with a classic and classy strip tease that Gypsy Rose Lee would applaud. 

Ashley Wallen's choreography is never less than adequate and sometimes, as in the faux-Fosse 'Hit Me Baby', first-rate. Some of the wittiest numbers are the short solos given each of the chorus girls to cover the star's costume changes - a bit of fire-eating here, a balloon dance there, a Flashdance salute there. 

Opening act Spencer Day is an amiable enough singer, and it is not his fault that his half-hour has the vaguely depressing feel of a smaller Vegas hotel's lounge at 3:00 AM on a Tuesday.

It's hard to know who to recommend this show to - the tired businessman wanting something classier than a lap dance club, someone nostalgic for Las Vegas glitz, or perhaps just someone less interested in the T&A than in a star with real star quality.

Gerald Berkowitz

DUCHESS THEATRE, JULY 2012: Read my review of last year's version of this decorous burlesque show and you'll see that I quite enjoyed it. I quite enjoyed this new edition as well, which leaves me not much more to say than to list and comment on some of the changes. 

The centre of the show is still Miss Polly Rae, a perky and attractive singer-dancer who's wise enough to know that it's what goes on before the clothes come off that makes a number work. Her star turns (fewer than last year) are all entertaining song-dance-and-strut production numbers that just happen to end with a little modest stripping.

(As before, while her chorus girls work their way down to thongs and pasties, Polly Rae rarely goes beyond a bikini, if that far.) 

The fun is in the glitz and glamour and the song medleys – Marie Antoinette, for example, is in turn a material girl and a diamond's best friend, goes gaga and is rocked by Amadeus. Indeed, the magpie collection of pop songs, ranging from Michael Jackson to Weird Al Yankovic, sometimes produces the incongruous feeling of being at some sort of warped Christmas panto. 

The rather sad boy singer is gone, replaced by Joanna Woodward as a bawdy compère whose double entendres (like pausing halfway through the word 'country' and giving the chorus girls names like Jenny Talia) coarsen the tone somewhat, which is not necessarily a bad thing. 

The filler numbers covering the star's costume changes have become somewhat more elaborate, including a couple of quite lovely dances that are more sensual than sexy and don't rely in the semi-nudity for their effect. (The programme lists a choreographer, an additional choreographer and a musical staging director as well as a director, so I have no idea who to credit with what.) 

To be frank, this show doesn't aim very high, but it achieves its goal, which is 90 minutes or so of undemanding light entertainment to round out an Olympics-filled day. Go for the T&A, but enjoy the good semi-clean fun.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Hurly Burly Show - Garrick 2011, Duchess 2012  

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