Toussaint | The Southern BellesLeft - The Southern Belles

Enterprising local burlesque duo the Southern Belles assembled this one-night-only extravaganza. With the show’s name coming from the French word for All Saints Day, each act included a macabre twist of one sort or another, with enough fake cobwebs strewn about the theatre to satisfy even the most ardent of Halloween revellers.

The performers were a mix of professional and less experienced entertainers, with the headline act being Sydney's Sarina Del Fuego, whose website bills her as “Australia’s top showgirl.”

MC for the evening was Madam Goulash (Emily Newton), who speaks and dresses like an Eastern European bondage mistress but has a down-to-earth humour reminiscent of a more risqué Dame Edna. I love what Madam Goulash does, I just think she could even do it more so – louder, stronger accent – perhaps just because a bigger persona helps to fill a bigger space.

Toussaint was staged at the quaint old Playhouse, a traditional proscenium arch theatre. It’s a wonderful, atmospheric choice of venue certainly, but it did make things challenging for the performers, most of whom would be used to connecting to their audiences in more intimate settings.

First up were the Southern Belles themselves, with a number that involved waking up out of coffins and doing a few glamorous turns. This routine was too simple for the space and some more action and movement wouldn’t have gone astray. The girls were stronger in their solo acts later in the evening, with Scarlett Jezebel performing a cleverly conceived dance with a vampire (not credited in the program) to the song Roxanne, and Tallulah Tassels messing about with traffic cones for I Put a Spell on You.

Another local burlesque trio, Miss Kitty’s Meow, provided a total of four diverse acts, with my favourite amongst them an elaborate fan dance from the group, complete with glow-in- the-dark and a hint of striptease. Miss Grace Cherry’s solo Little Fish Song – fan dancing again, this time slower and more abstract - was also a rather fascinating piece, while Miss Cleo Le Tea’s Talk Show host, executed almost entirely from up a pole, was a graceful display of athleticism, although I could have wished for a more glamorous outfit.

Third in the burlesque stakes was trio The Birds of Paradise, with Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend (and a bit of I Will Survive thrown in for good measure). This number may not have demonstrated particularly sophisticated skills, but was one of the funniest of the evening and lifted the mood with its sheer bravado. It mainly consisted of one of the “birds” singing (complete with a bewildered Dalmatian she brought with her on a leash) while the other two pranced about and acted the fool, such as one girl shooting darts at a bullseye placed on her friend’s rear end. The choice of music wasn’t wildly original but the onstage personas of the Birds of Paradise, with their crazy headdresses reminiscent of Rio showgirls, are great and I hope they will continue to hone their routines.

“Tribal belly dancing duo,” Miasma, one of the more polished acts of the evening, did some great stuff with swords and fire. The duo’s stage presence is consistent and powerful and their skills are solid. My only suggestion is that they invest in some sharper-looking swords: a sense of real danger when those blades are balanced on their heads would definitely kick things up a notch. Their fire act, while not feeling particularly risky (I’m sure it probably was!), was hypnotic and exotic and a treat to the eye.

Okay, what’s left? Well, there were a couple of lads, Bodane and Chris, who did a few naively charming magic tricks. Bodane also did a solo tap dance number. I don’t know if dancing it to Robbie Williams' version of Mr Bojangles counts as parody or grotesquery but when the music switched to something more upbeat young Bodane really came into his own. There was also Sister O, an unusual singer-songwriter with an interest in subjects as diverse as robots, mortality and cats. Sister O needs to work on mic technique a bit, just to be sure that the audience is catching everything, but she’s undoubtedly a talent and I look forward to whatever bizarre ditty she comes up with next.

So then all that’s left is headliner Sarina Del Fuego. You can see why she was the headliner – Sarina’s burlesque stylings are certainly a cut above and, importantly for those who are attracted to burlesque for the views it affords of naked flesh, she took it all off. Well, not actually all of it, but comparatively speaking: no flesh-coloured undergarments for this one, thank you very much.

Sarina did two acts: one involving unravelling herself from a lot of bandages (a nod to the evening’s theme), and another that was her interpretation of the famous balloon dance. Interestingly, fun as these gimmicks were, Sarina was actually a lot more entertaining after she’d dispensed with the bandages/balloons, at which point she was free to dance and do a spot of striptease. Apart from her abilities as a dancer, what makes Sarina an enjoyable performer is her exuberant cheefulness. She is a girl obviously enjoying being “a little bit saucy,” which I suppose is what burlesque is all about.

The Southern Belles present

Venue: Playhouse Theatre | 106 Bathurst Street, Hobart
Date: 24 Oct 2009
Tickets: $15.00 (plus booking fee)

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