Theatre Review of Cherie Bebe’s Burlesque Review at Matt and Phreds, Manchester

8th September 2019

The word ‘Burlesque’ often conjures up images of a sophisticated striptease act but there’s an awful lot more to the genre and the evening at Matt and Phreds certainly warranted the additional title of ‘Revue’, combining stand-up comedy and live music with an array of burlesque talent.

Burlesque was obviously the main point of the evening, with the audience treated to four artists giving seven very different performances. Burlesque can just be based around outrageous costumes having no artistic value beyond erotic fantasy. Cherie Bebe’s Burlesque Review was clearly aiming at something more theatrical and purposeful, with Compere Jonathan Mayor setting up each act on the lines of studio theatre sketches and with minimalist props and carefully chosen music, each act took us into a different world. There was so much more to this than just dancing, with facial expressions very much part of the performance, conveying various mood changes and emotions as each act progressed its own narrative.

Some performances were based on popular genres, giving remarkable diversity to the evening’s inspirations. Cherie Bebe gave a worthy insight into the Parisian Moulin Rouge scene while Motown received a vibrant, sexy twist from Velvet Jones. Velvet’s first performance of the evening, on a sort of 80’s Broadway theme, put a different slant on the burlesque style. After discarding a robe to reveal a virtually-naked pert body which she then proceeded to dress up. Let it not be said Burlesque is just about stripping off! Other acts included Starla Bright’s themed striptease inspired by 40’s classic ‘Brief Encounter’ and Suki Surrender’s uber-sexy tribute to 60’s sci-fi icon ‘Barbarella’ (complete with weapon and ‘energy juice’!). Starla Bright later returned to cheekily reveal the seductive lacy, blue underwear worn by straight-laced Victorian literary heroine Alice in her visit to Wonderland; the things you learn at a burlesque show!

Aside from the arse-wriggling (of which there was plenty) and all the sensual moves, there was a strong emphasis on dance and this worked well with the theatrical approach. The review would be incomplete without reference to Jonathan Mayor which riotous gay humour and banter with the audience held everything nicely together; he is very much a talented comedian in his own right. A lot of his comedy was observational, including his own mixed-racial heritage. In the second half this developed into a political rant against Brexit, with comedy cast aside to make way for subjective commentary on the state of the nation. Yes, it was a revue show but political ranting seemed to be stretching things. Fortunately, Mayor brought the comedy back before closing the show so his social-political lecture did not completely overshadow his earlier good work.

Music was provided by Elmo Ashall at the start of each act, a talented singer/guitarist whose passionate compositions plus a couple of well-known numbers were performed with gusto and feeling. At the end all the cast – including the Stage-Manager-cum-Props Mistress – appeared on stage together in true theatrical tradition, reiterating that fact that this had truly been a Revue. This was a most enjoyable evening, with the audience enthralled from start to finish. It also demonstrated a very imaginative approach to what can be a predictable genre: an approach with the potential to be taken much further.

If you think you know all about Burlesque, prepare to be surprised and wowed by Cherie Bebe’s Burlesque Revue!