Burlesque has enjoyed a significant revival in recent years. It seems its combination of dance, comedy, circus, music, theatre and striptease with a variety-show feel has struck a chord with modern audiences. Coupled also with a feminist edge and often witty insight, the performance genre is now in high demand at Fringe festivals and beyond. Into this fray comes Blanc de Blanc, a high-end offering from Strut & Fret Production House, boasting an impressive array of glitz, glamour and good-looking specimens to “infatuate, illuminate and delight”.
The show is based loosely on the theme of champagne. Audience interactions and artistic choices were devoted to the bubbly brain-bender and, like the drink, the show was expensive, luxurious, and did its best to take you to dizzying heights. Circus acts, contortion, acrobatics, dance and song all featured throughout the two-act performance. A champagne bar at the rear of the house kept guests sipping throughout the show and, while MC Monsieur Romeo drew individual acts back to this theme, there was ultimately no significant through-line, except to have a good time.
The production was impressive. Philip Gladwell, in his joint roles as Lighting and Set Designer, created a cohesive aesthetic that instantly recalled vintage French opulence. His double spiral staircase design lent itself to a range of modes, and individual set pieces were used to astonishing effect – most notably the hotel luggage cart that set the stage for Masha Terentieva’s outstanding acrobatic work. James Browne’s costumes were suitably lush, and Steve Toulmin’s musical direction provided many different moods throughout the evening.
Against this backdrop, the cast created some outstanding moments. Milena Straczynski and Hampus Jansson’s partner work on the silks was breathtaking. Shun Sugimoto’s flawless integration of breakdance and contortion had audience members simultaneously wincing and cheering, while the high-energy dance work of Laura New provided support and colour to a number of scenes. Interestingly, some of the best work of the evening came in the lo-fi moments. Spencer Novich’s perfect comic timing and physical expression were used to great effect in several pieces, and provided a much-needed foil to Monsieur Romeo’s archetypal French lover schtick. Australian artists J’aimime and Emma Maye Gibson brought much of the ‘skin’ but even more of the laughs with intelligent and engaging burlesque work.
However, in a variety show such as this, it is ultimately the responsibility of the artistic directors to bring the individual elements together. Director and Strut & Fret founder Scott Maidment and choreographer and co-creative director Kevin Maher succeeded in bringing the high-end spectacle they promised, but I felt there were opportunities left begging. Some of the extraordinary skills of performers were under-utilised. Too many of the acts felt like filler around the few exceptional moments, and some of the big-budget reveals failed to make a significant artistic impact.
That said, this is a show about champagne, and we rarely consume champagne for its nutritional content. The performance is light, energetic, amusing, glamorous and whimsical. It is a show best served in the company of friends who are up for a good time in the here and now, without consideration of tomorrow’s hangover. If you’re seeking depth or a life-changing epiphany, it may pay to look elsewhere. However, if you’re drawn to spectacle, adore the costumes in Moulin Rouge and aren’t fazed by full-frontal nudity, Blanc de Blanc is a great night out. Just make sure you have a couple of glasses of water before you retire for the evening.
Strut & Fret Production House
Blanc de Blanc
Directed by Scott Maidment
Venue: Regal Theatre, Subiaco
Dates: 4 – 23 October 2016