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

Lake Street Drive headline Shepherd’s Bush Empire – Gig Review

Lake Street Dive – Live at Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Thursday 10th November 9.00 – 10.00 PM

Words: Charles Conway (originally for Performance Reviewed)


Lake Street Dive is an American four-piece band who create genre-defying, label-eluding music, self-described as ‘if the Beatles and Motown had a party together’; throw in the Beach Boys ca. Pet Sounds, and all the best bits of pop music up to the present day, too. That description may read like a lot of waffle. Yet their swift progression from indy-labels and local dance halls to talk-show appearances and international touring is a testament to the band’s talent for clever, catchy and above all fun music.

This year LSD have twice appeared in Europe, anticipating and subsequently promoting their spring release Side Pony. Named for the dubious sideways ponytail, the album is a paean to quirky self-expression set to 70s Rock, Soul, and a touch of Disco. Now at the tail-end of a whistle-stop tour across Europe, Performance Reviewed was invited to their sole London appearance at the O2 Empire in Shepherd’s Bush.

Opening on a thunderous, amped up ‘Godawful Things’; – an ironic gospel hymn to rebound relationships – the theme of the evening was a meteoric, power-rocking celebration interspersed with somewhat calmer moments. The song ‘Spectacular Failure’, a thumping pop song on the album, became an ear-shattering, head-banging wall of sound; the jaunty ‘I Don’t Care About You’ turned into a kind of power ballad to searing indifference; and the surfer-styled ‘Hell Yeah’ went in the opposite direction and became frantic rhythm and blues.

Mid-way through the show, the spotlights dimmed and double-bassist Bridget Kearney came to the fore with a captivating, frenetic solo rooted in West African traditional music. At other concerts it would be jarring and gratuitous; here this virtuoso performance only highlighted the band’s versatility.

On the soulful ‘Saving All My Sinning’; and folk-flavoured ‘Mistakes’, vocalist Rachael Price exercises a range and preciseness that is rarely seen in popular music today. These are also among LSD’s more thoughtful, musing songs – beneath the light-heartedness and flippancy of course.

An honorable mention must also go to an inventive rendition of Lennon’s ‘Broken Glass’; with an a capella style chorus.


Despite the consummate musicianship, however, there was a mismatch between the aural and visual offerings. The Empire building is a charming period theatre, with both an expansive dance floor in below the stage and galleries high above. Performance Reviewed was initially seated in the latter, with prime viewing of what sounded like a hyperactive, rabble-rousing entertainment.

Yet the theatrics, overwrought yet fundamental to mainstream music, were minimalist at best here. Kearney, and Mike Calabrese (drums), were particularly animated on their instruments – and also mostly out of view. Price is an admirable showrunner, but on this occasion she was working with a rather stiff crowd. (An early attempt to get the crowd to sing along, on the call-response chorus of the funky song ‘Got Me Fooled’, was a non-starter).

As plush and comfortable as our seats were, it just felt wrong to be watching this energetic music being belted out below us, vaguely wriggling and foot-tapping to the beat. Could you imagine someone going to a Chuck Berry, and thinking ‘what I really need is a chair’?

Perhaps the fault was of our own making. My friend and I eventually made our way down to the dance floor and, here, got a better sense of what Lake Street Dive is all about . As the band reached the finale with ‘Call of Your Dogs’, a groove reminiscent of the Bee-Gees greatest hits, the Performance Reviewed team let loose and rocked our inner side ponies. For me, Lake Street Dive hits all the right notes. You might not get the same kick out of their nostalgic genre-bending and pastiche, but they are undeniably very, very good at what they do.

Their live performances only up the ante and the energy, at least musically. If you are persuaded to check them out their future shows, do remember to put on your dancing shoes and limber up; and if there is any seating, skip it.