BREVIEW: The Gilded Merkin Burlesque & Cabaret @ The Glee Club (B’ham) 20.10.19

Words & illustrations by Emily Doyle

The nights are drawing in and the mornings are getting darker. But that does mean The Gilded Merkin is back for its biannual slot at the Glee Club… so it’s not all bad.

Compering tonight is Virgin Xtravaganza, a London based drag performer and comedian who’s appeared everywhere from Torture Garden to Radio 4.

Cutting an imposing silhouette in skintight blue velvet, Xtravaganza’s character is that of a shrill, sexually frustrated mother of Christ. Between joyously blasphemous musical numbers she finds the time to be genuinely warmVirgin Xtravaganza - by Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs) in introducing the acts, alongside great chemistry with stage manager Mimi Libertine.

Scarlett Daggers is first to perform. The curator of The Gilded Merkin always has some impressive performances up her sleeve, and tonight is no exception.

Daggers totters onstage to ‘Monster Mash’, her body covered in balloons resembling eyeballs, and, grinning, pops them one by one in an up-tempo strip. She’s treading the line between goofy and sexy with the expertise of a seasoned performer. Later in the evening the audience see her more sultry side with a performance of her tried and tested ‘Cobra Woman’ act.

Scarlett Daggers - by Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs)

Up and coming neo-burlesque artist Cleopantha struts through the audience in her first appearance as a lounge version of ‘Crazy in Love’ fades in over the PA. Her steamy fan dance and floor work to this number leaves a trail of crimson ostrich feathers behind for Xtravaganza to pick up. Cleopantha turns up the heat with her second performance, a vivacious striptease to Cardi B’s ‘Money’ in homage to animated sex symbol Jessica Rabbit.Cleopantha - by Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs)

It’s not all G-strings and nipple tassels tonight, though. ‘The Tom Show’, aka Tom Balmont is on hand to provide some comic relief in the form of traditional sideshow acts – although it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Balmont leans on his good looks just as much as anyone else on the bill tonight.

He dislocates his shoulder to squeeze through a tennis racket a la record breaking Norwegian contortionist Captain Frodo. The sight of his limp, flailing arm as he jiggles the frame down over his shoulders elicits squeals from the crowd, who’ve been uncharacteristically reserved this evening.Tom Belmont - by Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs)

Balmont also invites one hesitant audience member up on stage to check the integrity of a sword which he proceeds to swallow, before inviting the squeamish participant to pull it back out of his esophagus by the handle.Havana Hurricane - by Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs)

Providing some of the evening’s more traditional burlesque is international performer and, “professional whirlwind” Havana Hurricane. A carefully paced routine to Doc Severinsen’s ‘Stardust’ feels timeless in its opulence, as Hurricane peels of layers of mint green chiffon and feathers.

Her second number is more animated, as she twirls her way out of yellow and pink boas like a seductive fruit salad sweet until she’s left statuesque in a thong and diamante pasties. Well, one pastie to be exact – both of Hurricane’s performances see her right nipple exposed in a wardrobe malfunction that could almost have been planned, leaving her to coquettishly cover herself with one hand as she takes a bow. Xtravangza delights in shouting “free the nipple!” as she leaves the stage.Duex Ailes - by Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs)

The highlight of this edition of The Gilded Merkin comes from Deux Ailes. This wife-and-wife acrobalance duo treat the crowd to two routines of dance and hand balance feats, including a smouldering tango to José Feliciano’s version of ‘Roxanne’ from Moulin Rouge. Clad in matching red lace bodysuits and heels, the pair weave together lifts and balances in an electric performance.

Once again, Scarlett Daggers and co have put together a show that’s equal parts entertaining and alluring. From contortion to musical numbers to good old fashioned nudity, tonight delivered all the bang for your buck that we’ve come to expect from The Gilded Merkin.

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