Category Archives: Burlesque

Lynn Ruth Miller on why “Everyone hates the San Francisco police…”

Lynn Ruth – Hubba Hubba – I’ve Got Balls

Stand-up comedian and late-flowering burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller concludes her series of blogs about her return to play three weeks of gigs in the San Francisco area after four years based in the UK…


Last Friday, I performed at the Hubba Hubba Revue’s anniversary event. I sang I’ve Got Balls and Music, Music, Music and was carried off the stage by a gorilla. AND I got my fourth standing ovation.  All this praise and adulation just might go to my head.

After the show, I went out to dinner with Kari Jones who is an accomplished hula hoop-er and now she dances on roller skates while she hula-hoops. I can barely clap my hands without falling over; she is a physically coordinated genius.  

But I am beginning to realize that my very existence and persistence is the key to all this admiration I have been getting from audiences. The one thing I want to remind myself over and over is that I am a hustler and I work for every gig I get, but I am not an exceptional talent.  

I do not want to suddenly think I am hot stuff when I am only an old lady having more fun with life than I ever dreamed possible after my anxiety-fraught, miserably unhappy, first half of life.

On Saturday afternoon I had another date with Alan Kahn which was really lovely because he has been very kind and attentive to me since I have been here.  

He drove me into San Francisco where I hunted around for a Starbucks or Peets to sit in until it was time for my gig at The Setup comedy club in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.  

Alan dropped me off at a Starbucks that had no place to sit so I asked a policeman if he knew of a café nearby.

“In the next block,” he said smiling happily at his partner and nodding to me.  

So off I went trudging down Market Street looking for a Peets that was not there.

So much for believing the San Francisco police.  

Finally, a young man in a cell phone shop drew me a diagram and sent me four blocks away to a lovely Peets where I could sit and ruminate about my set and take a bit of time to write some new material.

On the way there, I saw four police people on bicycles and I stopped to ask a young Asian police girl on a bike if this was a new thing since I could not recall seeing the police on bikes when I was here four years ago.  

She was a delightful young lady and assured me that, yes, they do ride their bikes mostly because it is easier for them to get into a troubled area and get out and not seem as threatening or intrusive as when they are in a vehicle with sirens blaring, double parked and blocking traffic.  

This young lady said she prefers a bicycle to being on her feet because, she explained: “They all hate us… You have to learn not to take it seriously… You should come to our station. We all just sit around laughing at the funny and abusive things people say to us. You have to have a sense of humor in this job.”

Well I certainly agree with her.

Everyone hates the San Francisco police because they shoot before they ask questions; they give citations when they are in the mood whether deserved or not; they are belligerent and angry even when you have not done anything wrong; and (like that first guy I met) they enjoy giving a pedestrian wrong information as a private joke.

Many of them are on drugs and alcohol and get off without sentencing because they are one of the boys.  

It is good know they laugh among themselves. I have never seen one smile.

I told this young lady who looked as innocent and sweet as a teenager that the London police do not carry guns and she looked shocked. She could not imagine patrolling a street unarmed.  

“They have Billy clubs in London,” I said to reassure her and off she pedaled to have a laugh-in at the local police station.

That was on Saturday.

On Sunday, it was my big art show.

After I left my home four years ago to fly cross the Atlantic Ocean and start a new life in the UK, Thad Gann salvaged 51 of my paintings. At that time, he said he was going to sell these paintings for me and make us both astronomical fortunes. But promises are only promises and dreams often have no substance at all.  

He had the best of intentions but did not even bother to price the paintings or display them. He did, however, make a lovely Facebook page called The Art of Lynn Ruth Miller.

Part of the reason he did nothing to sell the art was that he was involved in  moving from the East Bay to San Jose. This is a city that lacks the glamour of the Bay area. It is at the south end of Silicon Valley and the homes are small and crowded together in contrast to the sprawling ranch homes further north and in Los Angeles. The city is hot in the summer and cold in the winter without the fog or ocean breezes to keep the temperatures stable.

We planned to have a huge art sale there on Sunday to get rid of these 51 pieces of questionable art but, because the city itself is so far away from the central areas and because no-one there really knows me the way they do further north, I had very few hopes of selling anything at all.

And, indeed, all of two people show up – although each bought a painting.  

The rest of my 51 pictures will be donated to a rest home or children’s hospital to give the rooms a bit of color and to make me feel I have not painted in vain.

I do not paint for money. I paint to paint.

And now – back to London.

Painting by Lynn Ruth Miller … Photographed by Thad Gann

 

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Lynn Ruth Miller in San Francisco on Trump Jokes + the teacups-in-a-bra act

Lynn Ruth Miller last week, at the Punchline in Sacramento

Midway through her three-week series of gigs in and around San Francisco, 84-year-old comic and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller has realised something…


Here in the US, Donald Trump jokes do not work… even in California, where voters are overwhelmingly Democratic.  

There are large clusters of angry people who believe Donald Trump is refreshing (!) and honest (!!!) and they do not think he is being fairly covered by the press (who definitely hate him because he violates everyone’s sense of integrity, honesty and human awareness).

I am also aware of how important it is in this particular comedy scene to do set-up and punchline with little in between.  

Stories do not work as well here as they do in the UK. Americans want their jokes to be fast just like the food they eat. And they do not drink enough to soften the edges and see humor just because they want to see it.

After one show here, I went out to dinner with Bob Johnston who has been a redneck comedian for the past 21 years. His comedy is fast and hard-hitting and he has experienced success in pockets of the country where they like blue-collar humor.  

He lives in Martinez, another bedroom community in the San Francisco Bay area, and he has begun a series of comedy shows in an amphitheatre there that have been hugely successful.  

My friend Brett was with us and we talked comedy and people we knew over a dinner that was a typical American mess of large portions of unidentifiable food. There was a slaw of some kind with mint in it, fried plantains and what was supposed to be cod in so much batter I never did find the fish. It made me miss Bardsley’s Fish and Chips in Brighton, England, where the cod tastes better than a gourmet steak and the batter is to die for.  

Do not tell ME the English do not know how to create good food. Their fish and chips are beyond compare.  

Just do not get me started on haggis. (Sorry Scotland)

Brett is a perfect example of what has happened to the middle class in the Bay area.  

It is very like London in that Brett has a good job with a fine salary that anywhere else would be enough to support him and give him many luxuries – but which, here, he cannot even consider. He thinks of himself middle class as all of us do but he cannot afford an apartment of his own and he certainly cannot consider expensive vacations or nights out on the town.

The sad thing is that he is a marvellous comedian but, by the time he finishes his eight-hour job and two-hour commute to wherever he is living, he is too exhausted to perform in a comedy show that keeps him out until midnight or after. 

That is the plight of would-be comedians here. They cannot support themselves on comedy alone unless they are TV stars and a daytime job saps your energy so that, even if you do not mind operating on 5 hours sleep, you cannot be as sharp as you could be or in tune with your audience.  

I suspect this is a similar plight of comedians in London.

Brett is in contrast to the man I described in yesterday’s blog who has found himself homeless and helpless.  

Brett has never stopped working at anything anywhere to take care of himself. When he was evicted from his first flat in Pacifica, he went door-to-door and followed ad after ad until he found something. He was not bogged down with self-pity or paralyzed with a sense of inadequacy. He fought the system and found a niche he could live in.

The day after our dinner I met Mike Moto, a superb comedian who had a stroke three years ago and is recovering slowly but surely. He is a marvel and very, very funny. His day job is doing taxes and he is still top-notch at his job. The thing I love about him is his perseverance.  

He is recovering slowly from the damage the stroke did to his motor abilities and this is one time when I wanted to transport him to the UK where there are troupes of comedians with disabilities doing very well throughout the country like Abnormally Funny People.   

Nick Leonard came by to take me to lunch. He is a gay comedian, sometimes an adorable Tranny, who lived in London for a time and has turned to acting to support himself, only doing comedy occasionally.  He is a master at set-up and punchline and I was telling him about the famous UK suffragette Alice Hawkins who was arrested several times for being offensive.  

I told Nick I am now paid to be offensive and he said: “That’s progress.”

That night, I sang Zip (the song that got a standing ovation in London) at The Stud in San Francisco and this time, instead of a standing ovation, I got about $80 in tips which buys a lot more dinners than a standing ovation. To put this in perspective, the audience throw folded dollars onto the stage and the average take is about $20.  

The show is a tribute to Red Bone who is the host and is hugely capable not to mention drop-dead gorgeous… and Dottie Lux, the founder of Red Hot Burlesque. She has made it a true variety show, not just bums and tits.  

One young lady secured teacups in her bra and people threw sugar cubes into them. Then she poured water into the cups, poured that into her hat and did a bit of magic to make the water disappear.

After the show, I was waiting for my ride home and a young man came up to me and told me he had filmed me at one of my shows years ago. He remembered my house in Pacifica and a show he filmed at The Shelton Theatre.  

I have always felt that I made no impression at all in my 30 years here, despite having two local TV programs, exhibiting and selling art, writing columns and features for a newspaper and a magazine and of course doing comedy.

But, evidently, there are still a few people who actually remember that I was once part of this scene.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Lynn Ruth Miller on the warmth of burlesque and off-putting US comics

Lynn Ruth Miller doing burlesque in San Francisco

After a brief pause for the last two days of my blogs on the late actress Jacqueline Pearce, London-based American comedian and late-blossoming burlesque performer 84-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller continues tales of her experience returning to the US for three weeks of gigs in and around San Francisco…


This afternoon I met with Beth Lemke, an enterprising woman who started a wine bar in Pacifica where the majority of the establishments are blue-collar, junk food and cheap.  

The odds were against her in every way and yet, seven years into it, she has a profitable business that supports her in the Bay Area where the cost of living is over the moon and out.  

I always love being with her because she confirms my idea that you make the life you get. 

No-one needs to be a victim. 

No-one needs to shut up and take it. 

And Beth does not in any way. 

Her new thing is travel and she is planning several trips in 2019. Hopefully a return to London is one of them.    

Tonight I returned to Jim Sweeney’s Hubba, Hubba. Jim is the one who really established me in the burlesque scene here in San Francisco. Dottie Lux picked me up later and has been a wonderful loyal supporter but it was Jim who booked me over and over again. 

Tonight I did our old classic – Johnny Mercer’s Strip Polka – with the two songs I composed to go after it and then I tried Zip out on a San Francisco audience.

I was a bit uncertain about Zip because it gets standing ovations in London – but it has several British references.

I need not have worried. It was a triumph!!! 

Several of the girls remembered me and the audience went mad for me, which is a very feel-good situation.  

I stumbled around on the stage singing my classic Strip Polka number although I certainly did not polka. I did not want to risk ending up in an emergency ward. And I followed this with Zip.  

Most of the audience was standing by now. You would have thought that watching an old lady play with her zipper would have put them all to sleep. It did not. I will never understand why the burlesque community does not care that I cannot dance, cannot sing and I have a body that should have been trashed years ago. 

Nothing in this vast world of ours is predictable, is it?

Burlesque communities worldwide are not only more accepting of every age and body type but are actively welcoming. I have found this so in London, Cardiff, Glasgow, Bridgwater, Bristol and here in the San Francisco area. I think women who do burlesque are far less judgmental and far more anxious to give everyone the latitude to prosper being themselves.  

Even more interesting, the women in comedy over here are very off-putting and determined to assert their own excellence and demean anyone else’s. 

In London, women support and love one another and it is a pleasure to share a stage with them. Here in the US, it seems that we are in a competition which is a definite lose/lose situation.

Everyone’s comedy is unique to them and is as it should be.  

A performance is not a contest.  

… CONTINUED HERE

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Lynn Ruth Miller on US women comics, body taboo defiance, nice Trump voters

Lynn Ruth back in her San Francisco again

The last two blogs have been written by American comedian and 84-year-old burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, returning to the US for three weeks of gigs. 

This was what happened on her first weekend back in San Francisco…


Saturday was a Thanksgiving dinner – because I will not be here for the real one – and two shows back-to-back that I thought I would love. 

And, indeed, it was all magnificent. 

We had turkey that tasted like turkey! I do not like to admit that food makes my world go round but it sure did today. Turkey with gravy, sweet potatoes, stuffing, veggies and peach cobbler for dessert.  

Still stuffed, I left for the Retzlaff Winery where I MC’d a show I helped establish ten years ago with Michelle Hemmenway. It has grown by leaps and bounds and  the place was filled with comedy lovers.  

I opened the show for an all-woman line-up and the sad thing was that the women were really not very sharp even though the admission was high enough for people to expect to hear the Bay Area’s finest.

This is not to say that Michelle has not booked some wonderful people but it was very mediocre. The headliner especially made me sad because her jokes were really marvellous, clever and well thought-out  but they were spaced so far apart she lost the rhythm of her set. 

I am very, very spoiled I guess. In London, the women are sharp if not sharper than the men. I have to say they are a challenge to me and I doubt I will ever be as funny and wonderful as they are. Someone like Tiff Stevenson makes me realize how much farther I need to go to be a great comedian.  

Not so in the Bay Area. These women keep the stereotype alive… that we are funny in our way but not great.

But we all CAN be exceptional if we give it the time and the attention it takes. 

Stand-up comedy is an art and cannot be mastered in a month, a year or even five years. It takes time.

All things that are worth it do.  

I left the winery to run into the city to do another show called Body Taboo Defiance.  

This was a burlesque show but Dottie Lux, the producer and originator of the show, wanted me to talk about my anorexia.  

I sang one song and told the story of the chocolate icebox cake and people came up to me afterwards with tears in their eyes telling me how much they loved what I did. It was very gratifying.  

In fact, to my surprise, the entire night was brilliant for me because people were so accepting and so receptive to me… if only they had been that when I lived here.  

I guess that is the way it is in the world. No-one thinks much of the kid next door. It is the one out-of-towner that shimmers and glows.  

The rest of that show was unique in the extreme. 

It was all dance and naked burlesque with one man who wanted to be a woman, one woman who wanted to be a man, one black girl who wanted to be anything but what she was and Dottie Lux herself who stripped to the flesh and painted her body parts with blue paint she blotted on paper and pasted to a ladder.  

We saw bodies that were misshapen, flabby, solid and lean and what I loved about the show was that – because they all were naked we didn’t judge their looks – we judged the quality of the dance and the message their movement gave us.  

It was truly a thoughtful, interesting show that made us all question our own body image problems. The women in the show were brave and courageous and each beautiful in their own individual way.   

Sunday was catch-up day and, once again, I was struck by how far I have drifted from Bay Area values.  

Many of the lovely people I am with voted for Trump.  

One beautiful friend whose husband is physically falling apart and needs home care voted for Trump not realizing that her vote encouraged his administration to cut the very services she needs to keep her husband alive and comfortable.  

She is a wise and liberal woman in every way as are the others that I have met here who voted Republican. 

It is almost impossible for me to come to terms with their reasoning when I know them as superb people who are intelligent, socially-conscious, kind and loving human beings… not the idiots we in Britain assume are the clods who wanted Trump to be in the White House. 

Go figure.

I also met with two women who were in direct contrast with one another. 

One is a writer who has published a beautiful book but, to keep herself afloat in this very bloated economy, thinks she has to do PR for a product she doesn’t believe in and is in a relationship that is not satisfying to her.  

Her health is precarious and her fear of her future is immense. She got the flu and swears it made her lactose intolerant. You figure that one out. She feels locked into routines she never wanted and never planned to have to face in her late sixties.  

The other woman is truly happy, with a life she orchestrated and created bit by bit – a well-adjusted, artistic, creative mother who loves being a mother and enjoys the life she and her husband of ten years have created. He is a creative musician who has figured out how to channel his creativity into government-funded projects exposing families to music and all the pleasure it can bring.   

It is always a joy to be with her because she confirms my theory that happiness is something we each create for ourselves no matter what the circumstances.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Lynn Ruth Miller on dating a ROMEO, ageing and stripping in San Francisco

Lynn Ruth Miller performing burlesque in SF

Yesterday’s blog saw American comedian and 84-year-old burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller returning to the US for three weeks of dates.

That is ‘dates’ in the gig sense and in the romantic sense.

This is what happened next in San Francisco…


I had a date with one of a series of very old men who seem to think it is safe to feed me since I am as ancient as they are. 

The first one was a musician who has never played for money: a journalist who has never published anything after his stint at his high school newspaper 65 years ago. 

I was amazed at the interest this gentleman took in life and his love of the life he is living even though he no longer drives. 

He relies on public transportation in an area that has no concept of human need or time constrictions and he can only do one thing in a day.  

He goes to a monthly meeting of a group of men called the ROMEOS (Retired Old Men Eating Out) and has been taking a jazz class for years at San Mateo college. He is filled with stories of days gone by and can take as long as an hour to answer any question since he ties it all in to his checkered and endless past, each incident told in a thousand words or more.

It is hard to believe, but I was with that man for three hours and said absolutely nothing. He couldn’t hear me anyway… just one example of my dating pool.   

I have three more old men to go before this trip is over. I also have three or four YOUNG men who are treating me to meals and rides, all of them reminding me that I really didn’t miss the boat at all.   

This afternoon I met my dear friend Ursula and heard about her husband and all his troubles. Ursula has broken the same wrist I broke back in 2014 and is in a splint. Her biggest worry is that they will put her in the hospital and she will not be able to care for her husband.  

I realized, as I listened to this woman who is ten years younger than I, how lucky I am.   

My problems are all psychological and work related. Death or loneliness are her two elephants and they follow her wherever she goes. Mine are my nasty personality and disgustingly aggressive drive to succeed. They are much more life sustaining.  

Ursula is a wonderfully kind and industrious woman but plagued with the problems age brings. 

Her husband is all but helpless. It is she who puts in his catheter, carries him to the toilet, feeds him and monitors his bowel movements.

And he does nothing for her but exist. 

He is a brave man and does his best to take care of himself when he can but she is his full-time care-giver and nurse. She loves him and I know this is not a burden to her but still…

I had so wanted the life she had… and now I see the end result.   

As I have said over and over, sometimes you are blessed when your dreams do not come true. 

We drove by my old house and they have reversed the colors so it looks very California. It is now royal blue with white trim but it is still my house and my gorgeous garden. I realized as we passed it that that is now a closed chapter in my life. Beautiful while it was mine but mine no longer.

Alan Kahn picked me up and we went to Red Hot Burlesque. He is a young man (to me) whom I met when he was having a helluva time with his girlfriend, Amy.  Now he has a new one and she sounds lovely and stable. However, he is plagued with responsibilities and the need for life-changing decisions.  

The gig was an hour show at The Stud, south of market in San Francisco. 

It was a great little show where people threw money at the performers. 

I got $30 for coming out in a towel and putting on my clothes… and was given a shot of whiskey which I could not drink because it sends me to the moon and back.  

It was all glitter, gold and twirling tits – except for me, of course. 

My tits lost their charm many years ago. I rely on humor to titillate and it evidently worked – probably because it was such a change from what everyone had been seeing on that stage.  

Before and after the show, Alan and I talked about his problems. He has two children who will not leave home and I am always reminded of Dan Edwards’ comment that he could not get his children to leave, so he did. Maybe that is the answer for the parents of today.  

Again, I was faced with what I have avoided. 

Alan’s father died about three years ago after suffering several years with dementia and his mother died just a few months ago. He has two children who refuse to take responsibility for themselves and a sister who is the executor of his parent’s estate. 

He is a creative, intelligent and very interesting man who is chained to obligations not of his making. He has so many dreams he wants to make happen but cannot bring himself to leave the security of a job he likes but does not love, because it gives him a pension and security and pays so very, very well.  

It is a case of insisting on having the cake and eating it too and he has to come to grips with the eternal truth: If you want adventure and excitement, you have to give up stability and security.  

… CONTINUED HERE

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Lynn Ruth Miller, 84-year-old, on her striptease act at the Edinburgh Fringe

“Audiences screamed, cheered”

In the past few months, globe-trotting American comic Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, has blogged here about her recent gigs in PragueDublinBerlin and Paris.

Now, as this year’s Edinburgh Fringe enters its final week, she tells us about her most recent gig in Scotland’s capital…


Lynn Ruth in the Best of Burlesque show (Photograph by Carole Railton)

I spent three exhilarating evenings in Edinburgh as part of Chaz Royal’s Best of Burlesque production. My audiences screamed, cheered, whistled and yelled… but I could not hear them.  

I had left my hearing aid at home.

Women often say that doing burlesque empowers you and I have always questioned that until those three stellar nights when I rocked the house in the beautiful Palais du Variété tent at George Square Gardens.  

As I removed one layer after another singing my song about women and courage, I listened to the kind of adulation I never got when I removed my nightie for either of my husbands.  

No-one ever cheers for me when I manage to climb the stairs and emerge from the tube station.

I don’t get people stamping their feet when I pay for my groceries and use my own bag to carry them home.  

But, when I take off a pair of overalls at a burlesque show, the crowd goes mad.

That, my friends, is POWER.

By the time I had completed my run for Best of Burlesque I was certain I could march into Parliament and clean up that Brexit mess or hurry over to the White House to put Donald Trump in a corner until he came to whatever senses he has left. 

I had the balls to do ANYTHING.

I went to North Berwick to do an hour’s cabaret at The Fringe by the Sea Festival the Sunday after my Edinburgh triumph and was so super-charged and confident that I managed to sing ten songs almost in tune and only forget half the words. I was a success.

The bravado, the hubris, the sense of self-importance I got from prancing around in silk and tulle during that North Berwick hour to 28 sympathetic senior citizens carried me through as if I were a shooting star illuminating the universe instead of talking about all my failed attempts at love.

I was empowered. The audience clustered around me afterwards and one lovely woman said: ”It was so refreshing to hear someone your age talk about sex.”

I told her: “Darling I was talking about THE ABSENCE of sex… Didn’t you get it?”

But, of course, she didn’t and I haven’t either… not for years.

All those failures to impress, to make a mark, to show my mettle… all those empty moments when I hoped my charm would be noticed…  are now in the past.  

I have become a burlesque sensation. I have stripped and emerged triumphant. 

Eat your heart out Mae West 

I know a hard man is good to find, but I don’t need one.

I have balls…

Oh, and…

The trick to stripping is to come on with so many clothes that no matter how many things you take off, you still are fully covered when the music stops.

I proved that you don’t have to be naked to make people think you are taking your clothes off. 

Surprise!

(Photograph by Paul Adsett)

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Between the Sheets with Polly Rae, Entrepreneuress of Burlesque…

Polly Rae, entrepreneuress of burlesque

Tomorrow night, burlesque entrepreneur (entrepreneuress?) Polly Rae is fronting the first of seven summer shows called Between The Sheets at the Underbelly’s Spiegeltent on London’s South Bank. It is her fourth year there.

“Why that title?” I asked her.

“Because it’s a show about sex. I am the host and invite everyone into my boudoir to share my fantasies and sensualities.”

“Not a one-woman show?” I asked.

“No. There are eight of us. It’s a variety-cabaret-burlesque show. We perform as an ensemble but they also have individual acts. We have circus performers, male dancers, a clown-comedienne. We’ve been refining this show with various different casts for 4 or 5 years. This is our fourth season here at the Underbelly. The core cast has remained the same.

“The main headliner is an artist called Kitty Bang Bang, a burlesque fire-breather. We call her The bad ass of burlesque, the wild child, the rocker, the whisky drinker, the whip cracker. Lilly SnatchDragon is our hilarious, glamorous clown-comedienne. And we have Beau Rocks. In her act, she explores the more erotic and sensual side of burlesque – a contemporary act with UV lighting and UV paint. Quite a saucy, futuristic act.”

“Burlesque is stripping,” I said.

“Yes,” agreed Polly. “It is absolutely stripping, pioneered in 1940s and 1950s America and, obviously, Dita Von Teese has popularised it for this generation. I’ve been doing it for about 12 years.”

“Do your parents have a problem with stripping?”

“If you define the physical act then, yes, of course, it’s stripping. But the context is different from stripping in a gentleman’s club. Burlesque is very much about theatre and old-school Variety. It has the combinations of dance, comedy, singing, dancing and the various skills we use.

“So my parents don’t mind at all; they’re very encouraging and they love it. They come to see my shows… My mum brought me up on Madonna… Madonna in the 1980s!… What kind of influence was that?

Ensemble assemble Between The Sheets

“I like to think this show is quite titillating. I like to think it is quite hot under the collar. But it’s not explicit. If there are any moments that are explicit, we soften it with humour. I think it’s very important to have humour in my shows. You’ve got to balance sexiness with wit.”

“Parents in show business?” I asked.

“Not at all. Really, my influence came from my mother bringing me up on Madonna. My dad was an architect. Being an architect was his profession but, as a hobby, he worked on Gerry Anderson TV programmes as a model maker. He worked on Stingray. One of his main shows was Terrahawks… There was a big spaceship; he designed and made that.”

“But not a performer…” I said.

“I grew up loving performance,” Polly told me, “but I didn’t go to stage school. I originally wanted to be a special effects make-up artist. That was my original dream. My dad and I used to watch horror movies – science fiction alien movies and Freddie Krueger and so on. My dad actually worked on the movie Alien.

“When I was born, he moved back up North to Preston and his movie career was over. He was supposed to go and do the second movie – Aliens – but then my mum got pregnant with me and he chose not to carry on, which I feel a bit guilty about: he might have been in Hollywood now.

“I was a beauty therapist out of school. Then I moved from Preston to London and met lots of performers and that changed my life. At 19 years old, I flew to New Orleans and worked on the cruise ships for a few years, in the Caribbean.”

“As a beautician?” I asked.

Polly Rae – “a culture-building exposure” – reddy for anything

“Yes. But what was great was I got to see performers’ lives. It was such a culture-building exposure, meeting people from all parts of the world. I made friends with a lot of the dancers and singers and started to think: Ah! This is quite interesting!

“I decided I wanted to be a Social Host – like MCs who run the games, host the karaoke or whatever – but I couldn’t get that job because I had no experience. So, long story short, I started training in dance and singing and, around 2005, I met Jo King who runs the London Academy of Burlesque.”

“2005,” I suggested, “is around the time burlesque became respectable? Stripping was seen as sleazy but burlesque was acceptable showbiz.”

“I didn’t know what burlesque was,” replied Polly. “That was in 2005. My first performance as a burlesque artist was 2006.”

“Which was,” I said, “roughly when it started to get profile in the UK.”

“Yes,” said Polly. “Dita Von Teese had started slowly, slowly chipping away at the mainstream in the 1990s but, come the early 2000s, that’s when London cabaret clubs started. Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club had a show called The Whoopee Club. Then there was a show at Cafe de Paris called The Flash Monkey and a show Lady Luck and a venue called Volupté opened.

“I started working at Volupté and at the Soho Revue Bar – formerly the Raymond Revue Bar. I jumped on the bandwagon at the perfect time. I was in there just BEFORE everyone wanted to go and see a burlesque show and I formulated a troupe of girls called The Hurly Burly Girlies.

Polly Rae and her Hurly Burly Girlies troupe went West End

“Being a burlesque artist, you have to have a gimmick and my thing was singing and I had my troupe of girls with me. There were no troupes at that time.”

“What sort of singing?” I asked. “Ethel Merman?”

“More of a pop ’80s route…”

“Madonna…?”

“Exactly! Exactly! And it worked a treat, John! I wanted to try to be different and to appeal to a wider audience. I figured: If my audience knows the music, I’m gonna get a wider crowd. We worked on musical arrangements of modern songs. We made modern songs sound old. And we did pop songs but we dressed vintage.”

“Post Busby Berkeley?”

If you got it, flaunt it!

“Yes, post Busby Berkeley, for sure. I took a lot of inspiration from Dita Von Teese in the beginning and I think her styling is late-1940s/early 1950s. I also did the whole 1950s bump ’n’ grind thing to classic music like Benny Goodman. We just sort-of mixed it all up, really.”

“So,” I said, “You developed this over time.”

“Yes. I met a gentleman called William Baker, who was Kylie Minogue’s artistic director/visual stylist for the last 25 years. I told him I wanted to make the biggest burlesque show the world – or maybe the UK and Europe – had ever seen. I wanted to create the Cirque du Soleil of burlesque shows.

“I thought at the time I just wanted a stylist: someone to help me on my way a little bit and help me improve the production values. But William said: If I’m going to come and work with you, I want to direct it and bring in my entire creative team.

“And so we created The Hurly Burly Show. It started in 2010 at the Leicester Square Theatre, then we did a season the following year at the Garrick Theatre and, the following year, a season at the Duchess Theatre. After that, we did it in Australia and South Africa. We had a good 3 or 4 years of wonderful madness.”

“Cabaret and burlesque,” I said, “are colourful, kitsch, camp and…”

“Exactly,” said Polly. “It’s diverse, it’s innovative, it’s creative and it’s so unbelievably individual. That’s what I especially love about it.”

“So where can you go now?” I asked. “You have peaked.”

“Being on a West End stage was amazing,” said Polly, “and I won’t stop saying it was the most incredible experience of my life. However, as a burlesque/cabaret artist, when you’re in the Garrick Theatre, there are two balconies and you can’t see anything because the spotlight is blinding you and I can’t connect with the audience in the same way.

Between The Sheets – summer shows

“The intimacy in the Spiegeltent is amazing. You can connect with the audience. In Between The Sheets, we are walking in the aisles, physically sitting on people, stealing their drinks. It’s almost immersive. You can see everybody’s face. I can connect.

“It’s not a West End theatre, but I’m much happier in the Spiegeltent. I feel much more at home and stronger as an artist. My goal is I want to see people react, whether I make them laugh, cry, feel turned-on. The satisfaction of seeing that achieved is amazing.”

“If you have the house lights full up, though,” I suggested, “the audience can feel threatened.”

“Yes, you have to get the balance right. It’s not about having lights up; it’s the proximity. And choosing the right people in the audience.”

“So,” I said, “upcoming, you have…?”

Between the Sheets is my summer project and I like to think we might get picked up and do other little tours here and there. But I also have a residency at The Hippodrome every Saturday night. I also manage the dancers there and do some MCing for corporate parties. And I’m getting married next year.”

“Is he is showbusiness?”

“He’s in hospitality. His name is Eric; he’s from the United States; he’s been here for five years.”

“He’s a lucky man,” I told her.

Polly and Eric

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