Red curtains that once marked the height of burlesque and chandeliers casting their light across the galleries; that is the legacy of the Windmill Soho. Jill Millard Shapiro’s stories of tableau vivant in the nude, and elegant fan dances are still ringing in our ears, as the Windmill’s brand-new cabaret show ‘A Private Affair’ commences.
It is accompanied by a delicious three-course meal created by Michelin star chef Andrew McLeish, as well as a range of signature cocktails designed by Andy Mil for which he found inspiration in the Windmill’s classically elegant flair.
We are steered through the variety show by our energetic host Busola Peters whose intensity never quite matches the audiences’ involvement in the spectacle. Following a multitude of drag act jokes, and a catchy pop song performance, the first act of the night draws us in. Acrobat and chair-lover Felipe Reyes has it in his mind to reach the Windmill’s rigging by stacking as many chairs on top of each other as possible. Up there, and to encouraging cheers from the audience, he happens to find a red rose for his lover and impresses with a dangerously high handstand on his tower of chairs.
The acrobatics are followed by what should have been the opening act. It is loud, it is engaging, and it has the audience shouting for more. To rock music and a flashing blood-red projection, Josie Beth Davies is hoisted high up in the air by her sturdy-looking ponytail. Round and round she swings as her body takes on shapes that really do make you wonder if she can defy gravity. This is where the true spectacle begins.
Fire-eater Snookie Mono follows the hair hanging aerialist in a similarly impressive fashion. Not only does he eat fire but also shimmering swords. And he does so with a smirk and superior poise as he extinguishes one torch of another to the applause of the audience. His class and demeanour remind us of the elegance and dedication of the traditional Windmill Girls and Boys whose picture Jill Shapiro has painted so well in our minds.
As much as one would expect burlesque in a venue such as the Windmill Soho, we are only graced with its presence every now and then. Most of the time, the stage remains hidden behind those exquisite red curtains, as the Windmill players (Jodie Sully, Danny Joseph and Calum Sivyer), as well as our host, fill the gaps between acts. The burlesque star of the show, Didi Derriere, only appears every now and then as a seductive shadow in front of the Windmill’s backdrop. Bella Diosa’s ‘Good Girl’ act and the Windmill Girl’s neon-light dance are among the few acts that embrace the idea of suggesting without showing.
Sadly, our host does not stand aloof to an overly sexualised display. Whatever class and elegance the acrobats and dancers had brought to the cabaret show are undermined by Peters’ act that takes the theme ‘A Private Affair’ a bit too literally and ends in straddling audience members. Whatever Jari Laakso’s and Elizabeth West’s “nod to the iconic history of the Windmill Theatre” was meant to be, the creative directors make it hard to recognise it, as the talent graces the stage in a seemingly random order.
However, we do not leave disappointed as Davies once more hooks her ponytail to the rigging. This time, she has borrowed some of Mono’s torches which she swings around as the ring circles at impressive heights once more. She certainly manages to take our breath away as the flames turn into a circle of fire around her stunning aerial dance choreography.
Review: Shirley Both