I won’t lie, until this year, the majority of my burlesque knowledge came from that episode of The Simpsons where Bart ends up working in a burlesque house and the townspeople sing a catchy tune of who put the “spring” in “Springfield”. But earlier in 2015, I got a crash-course introduction in this feather-filled world when I won tickets to Edgar’s Girls, a saucy show by Poe Productions inspired by the masterworks of Edgar Allan Poe.
Armed with some prior knowledge as to what burlesque is all about, I found myself quite excited to see Strip! at the Sydney Fringe Festival. Written by former burlesque performer Clara Klemski, Strip! tells the story of a promising young politician, Victoria Bloom (Hannah Raven Smith) and her double life as burlesque dancer “Sparkles”. Torn between political duty and love for the art form, Victoria is at a crossroad in her career and must make a decision over which life she truly wants.
ACA graduate Hannah Raven Smith was born to play Victoria Bloom. Founder and director of Poe Productions, Hannah is no stranger to the burlesque circuit under her stage name Hannie Raegan. She steals the show with her warmth and charm, able to portray both the passionate politician and the saucy Sparkles with class and a loveable quirkiness. She is equally matched in skill with Cody Ross as Dominic, Victoria’s ambitious political advisor. These two young actors are electric in their scenes together, creating a riveting power struggle between the characters. Sharney Emma Nougher is delightful as burlesque veteran Lily Foxx, but Bradley Stephens in the role of Monty tries far too hard for comedy and as a result his performance falls a bit flat.
A fast paced one act play, Strip! is driven more by theme than story and therefore emotional character arcs are virtually non-existent. If anything, this makes Strip! more unique. The questions being raised are more pondered than answered, and characters are archetypes rather than three-dimensional personalities. That being said though, the writing is excellent, with relatable dialogue and fearless expression. It’s refreshing to see a politically-themed piece that isn’t interested in hammering its beliefs over the audience’s heads. Dramaturgy by the great Hilary Bell means not one word is wasted. The Kings Cross Hotel theatre is a good intimate venue for the play, though seating means the audience’s vision can be obscured. Excellent use of lighting and screen dancing sets the mood and draws the audience into another world, particularly during the climactic dance sequence.
Overall, Strip! raises many questions about art and politics. Do we see our political leaders as humans with real emotions? Do their personal lives and interest have anything to do with their political legislation? How would the world react to such a scandal? Does a woman embracing her sexuality the way she wants to make it scandalous? Why should burlesque be considered a scandal to begin with? Strip! sets out to explore the idea of two polar opposite careers and asks if the worlds can connect rather than collide.
Book tickets for Strip! here.