Words & illustrations by Emily Doyle
It’s St Patrick’s Day, and rather than elbowing their way through Digbeth with a Guinness in hand, the patrons of The Glee Club tonight have opted for an altogether more opulent evening. Once again, Scarlett Daggers has assembled a not-too-motley crew for another edition of The Gilded Merkin.
Since its inception in 2012, The Gilded Merkin has dazzled audiences up and down the country, and tonight is set to be no different. Our host for the evening is Joe Black, dark cabaret performer and musical comedy extraordinaire.
Dripping in sequins and chiffon, he kicks off the evening with a histrionic performance of the Rocky Horror Show’s ‘Sweet Transvestite’. He makes a point of directing some choice lines (“I’ve been making a man/With ginger hair and no tan…”) at Stage Door Johnny, another regular host at the Merkin, who is sat in the front row. By the end, Black is a little out of breath, but jubilant.
“I bet some of you thought, ‘Oooh, we’ll see some nice dancers, and maybe a man in a suit will come out and sing us a song.’ And here I am, dressed as the moon.”
The line-up for the evening offers something for all tastes. Didi Derrière’s blonde bombshell looks lend themselves to classic burlesque, which she performs with a jazzy twist. Her first performance is a smouldering strip-tease to Madonna’s ‘Vogue’, complete with top hat, cigarette holder, and a tribute to that eye-endangering bustier by John Paul Gautier. All duckwalk and motorik arm movements, Derrière’s choreography is precise and full of character. We see her more playful side come through in her second performance of the night, a bejeweled tribute to Marilyn Monroe set to ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’. Rhinestones fly and she shimmies out of a magenta gown – Black is quick to gather them up once she’s left the stage, shouting “MINE NOW” through the curtain and stowing them in his shoe for safekeeping.
Storm Hooper comes across as one of the night’s more modest performers, in manner if not necessarily in attire. She bills herself as ‘one of the UK’s leading Hula Hoop speciality acts’ on her own website, but apparently when Black asked her how she’s like to be introduced, she just told him she didn’t mind. Black takes this as a challenge, and proceeds to do his impression of a wild cat for what he himself describes as “an awkward amount of time”, pausing only to shout back through the curtain “IS THIS WHAT YOU WANTED??” When Hooper makes it onto the stage, it’s clear she needed no introduction. Clad in a neon yellow, leopard print bikini and clutching an array of light up hula hoops, she performs a bombastic routine to ‘Born to Be Wild’, bathed in suitably seventies blacklight. Her second routine, a showcase of her contortion abilities, is a little heavy on the floorwork for the venue, but the front few rows of the audience seem suitably taken aback.
Arran Shurvinton brings a complete change of pace to the evening with his Nosferatu character. Whether he’s wandering on stage before his queue or lurking at the back of the room while the other performers are on stage, his affectionate portrayal of ‘Noss’ is captivating. The unreal makeup plays a big part, the but the core of the character is in his facial expressions, which range from petulance to a shy smile. Some audience members might recognise Noss from a certain viral video, which sees him shimmying through the racks of Brighton vintage shop Beyond Retro – wearing bloomers and a sequined crop top.
Former winner of ‘Best Newcomer’ at the London Cabaret Awards, Lilly Snatchdragon has a lot to live up to. Her neo-burlesque stylings don’t disappoint, as she manages to be sexy, funny, and confrontational. Her first act plays on the character she builds on social media of a SE Asian women on a quest for a British husband and the passport to match.
Snatchdragon climbs out of a laundry bag and explains her plight in a series of Subterranean Homesick Blues-esque signs, before launching into a striptease routine that makes the audience squirm in their seats. It culminates with her removing her dress to reveal a Union Flag, which she proceeds to floss between her legs. Some would argue Snatchdragon gave herself a hard act to follow, but those people obviously didn’t expect her to return for a second performance wearing an Ewok costume. She removes this, piece by piece, to reveal some light up lightsaber nipple tassels, in a routine that’s as entertaining as it is baffling.
Of course, it wouldn’t be The Gilded Merkin without a performance from the evening’s cackling puppetmaster: Scarlett Daggers. She treats the crowd to two routines tonight – the first sees her totter onstage in an oversized gift box; Daggers dismantles the costume panel by panel until she’s stood on stage in nothing but a pair of diamante nipple pasties and matching C-string. Long suffering stage manager Mimi Libertine, the woman who keeps the show running like a well oiled machine, quickly gathers up the discarded props in time for the next act.
Later in the evening, Daggers performs her iconic ‘dragstrip-tease’ to the sounds of Aerosmith. A spin on the classic fan dance routine, Daggers waves two chequered flags coquettishly as she shimmies out of a thoroughly rockabilly get up, complete with gingham shirt and neckerchief. She produces a bright red oil can to ease her way out of her skintight leather pencil skirt, which she pops open with a twitch of the thighs. With the room in the palm of her hand, it’s easy to see why Daggers is the showrunner.
And so, the night comes to an end – though not without a few more musical numbers from our host Joe Black, including a deeply unsettling re-imagining of George Formby’s ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’. As the lights go down on another night at The Gilded Merkin, it’s a sad thought that there’s a whole seven months to wait until the next one.
For more on The Gilded Merkin, visit www.gildedmerkin.co.uk
For more from The Glee Club venues, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.glee.co.uk
NOT NORMAL – NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this feature – or if you want to report an act of sexual aggression, abuse, or assault – click here for information via the ‘Help & Support’ page on the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK website.