Review: Miss Polly Rae’s ‘Between the Sheets’ at Underbelly Festival

polly rae between the sheets underbelly 2017

I’m a huge fan of Polly, the woman beside me says: she’s the best in the business. We’re sitting on the far left of a crowded semi-circle that cups the stage. I can’t hear her exacts words, which are drowned out by both the frank invitations of Khia’s My Neck, My Back and the murmuring crowd around us.

For Underbelly Festival’s debut season, Miss Polly Rae reprises her popular show Between the Sheets with new and exclusive material. Within a cavernous spiegeltent, festooned with lights and disco balls, the lovely MC and her colourful troupe celebrate perversion, outlandish desires, and love in the 21st century. Although advertised as cabaret, the show is more a heady mixture of burlesque, striptease and variety.

Soon the lights are killed and the tent goes pitch black – save for a white, glowing sheet in front of the catwalk. Behind it lies a scene of men and women, angelically silhouetted but suggestively posed. The light flickers softly, and each time the scene shifts: the result is a kind of orgiastic moving picture. It’s a clever little teaser for what proves to be a most excellent and myriad light show.

polly rae beneath the sheets underbelly festival 2017 troupe

The troupe makes a steamy entrance.

A lithe figure, purple skinned with neon hair and lips, struts out of the darkness and across the dim stage. Beau Rocks starts us off with a straightforward, purely sensuous dance routine. It feels like a retro sci-fi mixture of burlesque and rave, with a lush chair routine to really get your rocks off. Between the Sheets is very much a millennial production – from the selection of predominantly 90s popular music, down to the costuming.

Beau less than subtly finishes up by pouring glowing, multicolored paint all over herself. After the applause a sultry voice emerges from the audience. Miss Polly Rae, from where I’m sitting, appears to be wreathed by rays of golden light. She slinks towards the stage, flirting and quipping with audience members along the way, as she introduces herself and the show to newcomers. Rae sweetly explains that we are between her sheets – her world of fantasy and desire.

The acts get along at a brisk pace. Most are elaborate stripteases, varying between pastiche or parody, with suitably elaborate outfits. If they aren’t especially sophisticated, one is easily distracted by both the dazzling lights and the troupe’s physical sensuousness. The women are voluptuous, the men chiseled, and all are very limber. Tom Cunningham and Myles Brown prove to be the mainstay of the show, featuring in at least half of it. They are the most dynamic of the bunch (at least on the ground…) both physically and emotively.

Lily Snatchdragon, as Miss Rae’s long-suffering understudy, provides two coarsely comedic interludes. Her character is a mishmash of Oriental Asian stereotypes – ‘I’m Thai but the kimono is Japanese, deal with it’ – down to the saccharine falsetto. Lily bemoans both her lot in life, (avoiding) to clean up after the rest’s escapades, and her desire for British nationality. The highlight is a very blue parody of I’d Do Anything, including raucous suggestions from backstage. Playing desperation for laughs is a tricky thing, and Lily’s momentum does flag at moments however.

polly rae between the sheets underbelly festival 2017 duo visage

For their enchanting, gravity-defying performance, the lights were turned down low and the music softened.

 

polly rae between the sheets underbelly festival 2017 kitty bang bang

Kitty Bang Bang’s first fire-breathing performance.

Personally, my favourite part of the evening is also the least overtly sexual. Acrobatics partners Duo Visage mesmerise the crowd, almost to complete silence, suspended upon an aerial hoop. Intertwined they perform seemingly impossible feats of contortion and agility, lowering each other down and up and around, all while spinning in the air.

It was a tough one to follow. In barely-there lingerie, Kitty Bang Bang sets the stage aflame – literally so, at the climax – twirling torches and swallowing fire. Yet the striptease and the gyrating almost feels perfunctory here, and definitely a distraction. ‘Pony Play’, with Brown and Cunningham as the stallions and Rae the rider, starts promisingly but ends up feeling a little mechanical.

Wrapping up the show, to everyone’s dismay, Miss Rae proffers one last act. Kitty sweeps the stage again in a flowing black dress, a classic femme fatale, for a jaw-dropping reprise. Stripping the dress away, she climbs into a raised basin of water. I soon receive a light showering, while the Polly fan beside me gets soaked. (It’s sour, she says with a little grimace). Sweat and water dripping down my face, I behold the sexpot – clad in fiery, spinning nipple tassels – getting raunchy and wet inside a giant, also flame-rimmed cocktail glass.

polle rae between the sheets underbelly festival 2017 finale

Polly and the cast, all in fresh outfits, make a sparkling farewell.

Between the Sheets is an extravaganza of earthly delights, both carnal and otherwise. Director/Art Director Laura Corcoran and Klare Wilkinson have put together a fun production that rises above itself. The focus is on striptease, and the cast is very comfortable in their own skin. Yet the show makes a balancing act of titillation, erotica, laughter and serious stagecraft. It doesn’t always work, but what strikes me is how earnest the troupe appear to be.

‘Love is what it’s all about’, Polly Rae declares in the finale. I might even believe her.

 

Words: Charles Conway
Photography: Jason Moon/Underbelly Festival
Originally written for Performance Reviewed

Reliving the 90’s at Hot Since ’91 Karaoke Event

 

Chokers, VHS tapes, TLC, Clueless, the 90’s replay in our minds over and over again, but one night in London is offering the chance for partiers to once again relive the glory days. Equipped with our tie dye tees and chokers, we took a trip down memory lane to Hot Since 91’s Karaoke to experience the magic.

HS91 isn’t just another flimsy 90’s themed night where they’ll play the Fresh Prince soundtrack before returning to the usual “Pitbull Clubchoonz Megamix” playlist. No, Hot Since 91 takes the 90s very seriously. This isn’t a karaoke event in the sense that you get in a private booth and drunkenly croon along to ‘Angels’ in a sweaty huddle. This is a ‘Live at the Apollo Amateur Night’, where you either turn up ready to snatch wigs with your beat-perfect rendition of Left Eye’s verse of Waterfalls or you unceremoniously get booed off of stage like a 13-year-old Lauryn Hill did back in 1987. We’re not lying, check out the video below…

We chose not to get on stage but the performances were indeed fire, so much so, we’re pretty sure some of those on stage had rehearsed before hand. Along with the singing, the night also featured free chicken, free candy floss and a host of nostalgic entertainment in their 90’s games room which is kitted out with a SNES, Connect Four, Operation and many other games.

Themed karaoke events are nothing new to London. Hip-hop karaoke has been a well-known event for a couple of years however they don’t take the theme nearly as far as HS91. Even the photo booth on the upper floor had a prop-box full of nostalgic items to pose with.

All in all the night was fun and a different way to spend a Friday evening. They do however need to work on a few things. The karaoke continues past 2am, that’s far too late. It’s fun and quirky but there is a point when you just want to dance to the 90’s music as opposed to watching Destiny’s less talented children perform them.

Suddenly after the karaoke portion of the night ended, the music made a complete shift. The 90’s tracks which partiers performed all night suddenly became a full on Grime mix which was strange and out of place for a night which was previously based on everything 90’s. We might love Stormzy, but I don’t recall running into HMV in 1995 to buy his latest cd.

If you’re after a fun and unique night, we would definitely recommend HS91. It’s a rather lively night so don’t wear your finest heels as they will be trampled and there is very limited seating. This is a night to relive youth, if you’re after a calm bar for your Friday night then steer well clear but if you want something fun, quirky and new, HS91 has you covered!

Find out more on their website

Get your tickets on YPlan

All photos: HS91