The Illicit Thrill

★★★
music review | Read in About 2 minutes
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The Illicit Thrill
Published 06 Aug 2016

From novelty nipple pasties to technicoloured tattoos, 21st-century burlesque trades in kitsch as much as sex. Gypsy Charms is a beloved icon of Scotland's burlesque revival. But the late night show she hosts sweeps away sequinned coyness in favour of something edgier. Sandwiched between hen parties, stag dos, handsy couples and lone perverts, performers strut, lapdance, and gather fake dollars in their g-strings. No matter how you slice it, this is a strip show.

Admittedly, it's one with a pedigree. A ramshackle slideshow of photos, adverts and quotes tells the story of burlesque a decade at a time, stripped bare of whimsy as it sashays from fifties cheesecake to the stark strip clubs of the present day.

A live house band keep things ticking along in suitably retro style, even if it seems to have something of a knack for disconcerting song choices. A seventies striptease is soundtracked with creeptastic hit, 'Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon', while a noughties lapdancing segment from Savannah Duvall is given a kind of aching desolation by Amy Winehouse's depression torch song, 'Back to Black'.

Gypsy Charms has a knack for one-liners, keeping the crowd dazzled by her ingenuity even before she unveils her labial furniture. She's crystal clear that stripping is a job, and that its performers' seductive glances are an act. But her politics are hazier. A faux-lesbian pole dance finale that's straight out of Spearmint Rhino makes it clear that the male gaze is king. And though the well-marinated crowd lap it up, it feels like an empty pleasure: the kitschy narrative of female empowerment through burlesque turned dark, and sour.