Naughty but nice cabaret extravaganza arrives in Norwich

Burlesque is big business and gone are the clich�s and preconceptions. An Evening of Burlesque brings the cabaret creme de la creme to Norwich. SIMON PARKIN reports.

Camp and colourful, tantalizing yet tasteful, the fascinating art form that is burlesque arrives in Norwich Theatre Royal tomorrow on the back of a revival that has seen it plucked from backstreet dives and brought back into the mainstream.

With corsets, killer heels and stockings aplenty, An Evening of Burlesque, which bills itself as 'All Tease, No Sleaze', has already enjoyed a successful run in the West End and a string of sell-out dates up and down the country.

Mixing Parisian charm and Las Vegas glamour, the show includes some of the country's top burlesque dancers and performers. 'We've been taking burlesque to the masses,' said show producer Michael Taylor. 'It brings variety back to the theatre, combining musical and theatrical parody with the art of striptease, magic, comedy and dance. Never before has so much burlesque talent been presented in one evening.'

Performers include Kiki Kaboom, Miss Hotcake Kitty, Chrys Columbine, an accomplished classical pianist and fan dancer extraordinaire. Slinky Sparkles, renowned for her Monroe-esque curves; AJ James specialising in gravity-defying feats of balance; and there is a show-stealing performance from Kalki Hula Girl.

Headlining is the wonderfully exotic Rotherham burlesque dancer Amber Topaz, who describes herself as 'The Yorkshire Tease' and says she was born to perform.

Yet the fun-loving beauty only became a burlesque dancer after landing a part in the West End and realising musical theatre wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

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'Burlesque was something that just happened to me,' she said. 'I was in Les Mis�rables in the West End and I was not enjoying it as much as I hoped. A photographer had asked me to do some shots in a 1950s/60s style. He asked me about trying to do some burlesque which, at that stage, was still really underground.'

With a job at London's famous Whoopee Club — where the revival of burlesque probably began — her career was set and the opportunity to be more of her own boss both creatively and professionally also appealed.

'I just felt with the West End that it was starting to get a bit routine. I was a cog in a wheel. With burlesque, I could be a lot more creative and I built up quite a big repertoire. What was brilliant was being able to sing what I wanted, dance how I wanted and wear whatever costumes I wanted.'

Amber Topaz — real name Sheli Andrew — has gradually grown her professional reputation becoming one of the country's most sought after cabaret performers and it is an area of theatre that she is incredibly passionate about.

'People talk about burlesque being empowering. It is not about taking your clothes off. It is about being comfortable in your own skin,' she said.

An Evening of Burlesque marks a natural progression that has seen burlesque emerged from being out of fashion to cult cabaret nights to now packing mainstream audiences into large venues like the Theatre Royal.

Amber explains: 'The show is full of all different sorts of variety. It definitely is not a striptease show. There is fan dancing and show-tunes, great music, and some audience participation.

'It has got singing, dancing and comedy. We have circus performers in the show. It is very definitely theatrical because that is my background but it is very much burlesque. It is full of innuendo and very provocative.'

The Theatre Royal has already seen incredible demand for tickets — something which is being experienced by other venues around the country.

'We have had some amazing audience reactions,' said Amber. 'People are giving us standing ovations and raising the roof. It is really exciting to get that sort of reaction.

'If people have never experienced it before, they are going to see some of the best British burlesque performers. A lot of people come along because they are curious and end up loving it.

'Theatre shows are also great. A lot of people may feel a bit intimidated going into a burlesque club but this gives them a great introduction to it.'

And though the show is over-18s only, Amber insists is more about innuendo and sauce, than filth, so much so that her mum and dad both regularly come to see her perform.

'This burlesque is more like a variety show and less intimate than people think. Think seaside postcards,' she smiles.

Amber's message is quite clear — it is sensual, sassy and sophisticated, so come and see why burlesque is best.

? An Evening of Burlesque, Norwich Theatre Royal, June 23, �21-�5.50, over-18s only, 01603 630000,