I remember asking the late godfather of British alternative comedy Malcolm Hardee why The Greatest Show of Legs had come up with their idea of the naked balloon dance in the 1970s.
“There was an awful lot of it about then,” he told me. “Nudity.” And there was. The Romans in Britain causing outrage with simulated sodomy at the National Theatre in 1980. And people were streaking at, it seemed, every public event under the… well, not under the sun… this was and is Britain.
In 1969, I saw Hair on stage in London’s West End and it seemed like you couldn’t go to any fringe play anywhere – be it Greek drama, kitchen sink or a play about Serbo-Croatian pottery of the 13th century – without people stripping off and jiggling their boobs or balls at you two feet from your face. Every naff suburban pub seemed to have lunchtime strippers. And then there was Paul Raymond.
I was reminded of this last night when I went to Great Sexpectations – the semi-finals of the performance section of the annual Erotic Awards, held at the wonderfully OTT Bush Hall in London. The event was a cross between a classy Venetian masked ball and a strip club run by Paul Raymond when he was claiming he was in the business of art not tart.
Last night was a successful stab at some glamorous 21st century divine decadence, just as co-organiser Grace Gelder had promised when I chatted to her for a blog a week ago.
She organised the charity fundraising event with Lianne Coop under the banner of Juicy Productions.
The fundraising was for The Outsiders’ Trust and this was the event’s 25th year, but Grace & Lianne’s first after taking over event production from originator Tuppy Owens
The Erotic Awards sign on stage last night had, as its subtitle, a quote from English artist Grayson Perry who, in The Times, described Tuppy Owens and her helpers as “the good people in a gloriously mucky business”.
Last night’s performers were divided into Stripping and Performance Art. Personally, I couldn’t see the difference. There was also a high element of Mime going on too and the whole thing reminded me of the newly-added section of the Edinburgh Fringe devoted to Cabaret – though with added nudity and expensive costumes.
One former venue for the event was London’s ICA – the Institute of Contemporary Arts – and, as last night’s stonkingly excellent compere Mat Fraser said: “We are contemporary and we are artistic.”
The craft of compering is always under-recognised and Mat seamlessly brought together audience and performers into a party atmosphere… with, among delights too numerous to fully mention, Rubyyy Jones &?!’ (pronounced And What?!) singing the Dead Kennedys’ Too Drunk To Fuck song and stripteaser Tiny Tim bringing up-to-date 1960s TV’s Musical Muscle Man Tony Holland’s act with added sex and back-flips off a large stage speaker.
Other highlights for me included Aurora Galore debuting a new act. She was winner of the Miss Paris Burlesque Festival 2012 and says her influences range “from Lady GaGa to Haute Couture and a wide range of dance styles”. That rather understates the act.
Then there was Mynxie Monroe with an act which only incidentally included a wig, two bras, two panties and a dog being beheaded. Now, for me, that’s top class, well-structured entertainment.
There’s a special mention for (from Norfolk) gender bending MissCairo Mascara doing a striptease as Pinocchio with creative use of the nose.
But let’s not mention or even hint at what MisSa Blue did with the lit candles.
All this was merely a ‘taster’ for the much larger Night of The Senses event in May.
If Mat Fraser’s description last night was a true reflection of what has happened at that event in previous years, it’s going to be… well, quite a lot of things are better left unsaid.