Writer Beth Exley / Photographer Sarah Maiden
The upstairs room at Missing Bar is a small but sparkling gem in the heart of Birmingham’s LGBTQ+ community. A baroque style ceiling covered with cherubs and sunset-hued clouds arches over my head and a pink, glittering ruched curtain hangs behind the stage in a nod to traditional theatre spaces, but much more camp.
It feels like the perfect space to host Not Just A Gentleman’s Club – an evening of drag, striptease, and comedy built around the theme of gender, sexuality, and empowering identity.
I arrive quite early, but the room is already packed and buzzing, the performers are mingling amongst the crowd allowing glimpses of the gorgeous outfits we’re about to see on stage, building the excitement and anticipation for the show which is due to begin. The crowd is also surprisingly varied, with attendees of all ages and identities sat around the tables reflecting the wonderfully inclusive make up of tonight’s cast.
Shortly after taking our seats, we are greeted by Dominus Von Vexo, the creative powerhouse behind House Of Allure (the acclaimed burlesque, cabaret and drag Birmingham based collective founded in 2017) who co-produced tonight’s show with Locques La Roux.
They immediately offer us a free glass of prosecco and I happily accept, appreciating something to sip whilst having a little shoulder boogie to the sexy noughties bops and 60s classics playing through the speakers.
A short while later, the host, Locques La Roux takes to the stage with assistance from performers Mimi and Penny Dreadful to give us a rendition of ‘Friend Like Me’. As a host, Locques is incredible right off the bat.
Dressed in a sailor’s hat, white trousers, and nipple covers, he gets the crowd warmed up and comfortable with a little bit of audience participation and some silly one liners that set the tone for the night ahead. He then welcomes the first act, Ashanti Gold, to the stage for a 1960s themed burlesque performance.
Ashanti is electric and her costume is great. As she performs her striptease, she exudes confidence and fully embraces her sexuality in a way that is truly captivating.
She is followed by the brilliant Lolita Lash, who performs a lip sync and dance number to ‘Dance Ten, Looks Three’ from A Chorus Line, thrusting their balloon breasts at the audience and gaining big laughs.
Next to take to the stage is Manly Mannington from Bristol. The look is impeccable. One half of his body is dressed hyper-femininely in a carnival outfit, whilst the other side is incredibly masculine.
Manly deftly explores gender identities, shifting his mannerisms perfectly to embody the masculine and feminine roles, illustrating the performative nature of gender expression– it’s a one-man duet.
In the final performance of Act One, Peaches Munroe treats us to a deeply funny song entitled ‘Yes All Men’, which has both me and my boyfriend in absolute stitches due to the lyrics and Peaches’ hilarious facial expressions which really sell the performance.
I don’t have to wait too long before Vinca De Fleur mounts the stage dressed as a teapot and I know off the bat that this is going to be one of my favourite performances of the night. Spinning a narrative about a teapot that isn’t sure if it wants to be a teapot whilst stripping off layers of the costume to reveal more and more surreal undergarments. The teapot’s dilemma is silly on a surface level but, once again, speaks perfectly to the show’s overarching theme of gender identity.
At about the half-way point, Locques La Roux returns to get the audience a bit more involved. He moves through the crowd, selecting three pairs to come up on the stage. I’m avoiding eye contact as I’m a bit too shy for individual audience participation, but honestly, I wish I’d volunteered because the game looked like so much fun. The pairs are given a loo roll and two minutes to create a wedding dress look; some attempts were better than others, but each couple looked like they were having an absolute blast.
After the excitement of the wedding dress game, Penny Dreadful is back at the front of the room with a burlesque number as the aging Vegas showgirl Lola, from Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacabana’. Penny is a delight to watch on stage, she’s energetic, funny, and sexy – three words which seem to describe House Of Allure perfectly. Peaches Monroe closes the second act with more powerful burlesque which also plays with and questions gender through their brilliant makeup artistry and compelling dance moves.
I grab another glass of red wine in this intermission, and before I know it Locques is performing to MARINA’s ‘Bubblegum Bitch’, dressed as Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, wielding a can of whipped cream. It is every bit as amazing as it sounds. Locques is quickly followed by second striptease performances by Ashanti Gold and Vinca De Fleur, both of which were equally as fantastic as their first appearances.
The show is coming towards its end and the audience are merry; you can tell by the increased volume of the cheering for every act. Dominus appears on stage dressed as Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove, complete with a full face of purple makeup and towering hair feathers. I am blown away by the artistry of the look.
They then launch into a wild medley of scenes from the film, Eartha Kitt’s ‘Want to Be Evil’, and Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’. As a huge fan of The Emperor’s New Groove (one of the most underrated cartoon films in my opinion) this performance blows me away.
To close the show, Manly Mannington comes back to the stage to perform his award winning Black Girl Magic burlesque routine, which sees him mounting Locques for a lap dance and appearing as a superhero. The act is unapologetically black, sexy, and powerful.
It is a really incredible way to close for one of the best shows I’ve been to this year.
Not Just A Gentleman’s Club is such a positive, welcoming and free flowing space that it feels amazing to spend an evening in the company of its brilliant cast. After the show ends, I feel warm and full of love and admiration for these performers and the audience who have been so supportive throughout the night.
I truly can’t wait to get to another House Of Allure production.
Not Just A Gentleman’s Club – Sarah Maiden
For more information on House Of Allure visit www.instagram.com/_houseofallure_
For more events at Missing Bar visit www.missingbar.co.uk