A Wonderful Evening Stuck to the Underside of Decency: Precious Gift Burleque's 'SEX PEST'
This review is also a response to Patrick Horan's review available at:
I was lucky enough to catch ‘Sex Pest’ at the Adelaide Fringe Festival where the show was received warmly. Fascinated and disgusted in equal measure by Precious Gift Burlesque’s modern twist on this resurrected, reanimated and perpetually re-resurrected art form, I was quick to Google this new company and investigate further.
The Adelaide shows were all met with much acclaim. A handful of four star reviews (all available online) and reams of positive comments confirmed my own opinion that ‘Sex Pest’ was a wonderfully coarse concoction of dick, fart and sex jokes performed by a remarkably inventive company of performers that heralded their Melbourne debut by dressing up as sparkly flies and making sweet, sweet love to a giant poo for an adoring audience’s pleasure.
Thoroughly impressed, I dragged some friends and colleagues along to Red Bennies last Saturday night to see it. It was difficult adventure with a whole evening riding on my humble opinion. All of party were resistant to seeing another burlesque show in a scene with a glut of aggressively passive “classic” performers. There expectations seem to be locked into the usual, nostalgic “burlesque” of knowing nods, winks and wriggles that thinly veil an excuse to celebrate a very narrow, chaste version of female sexual expression.
It’s a performance of a performance of an imitation of something that was, in the past, dangerous and determined to be risqué. Burlesque as we know it today is an antique Frankenstein’s monster, pumped through the filter of good taste and harmless fun, fashioned for the Friday night crowd of curious casuals and costume wearing enthusiasts.
It’s all very witty, but unfortunately it’s not very funny, moving or memorable. More of a day at the museum experience than a bawdy, bathetic, tipsy stroll into the back-alley rituals of yore.
Whoever decided to make burlesque culturally sanctioned should be restrained, Clockwork Orange style, and forced to watch classic burlesque through a 19th century Phantoscope ad infinitum.
Thank goodness for ‘Sex Pest’.
Thank goodness for Precious Gift Burlesque who are attempting - in spite of dull, resistant reviews like Patrick Horan’s – to re-make burlesque for the here and now.
The uproarious and near packed Saturday night house at Red Bennies seemed to appreciate it as well.
Each performer in the show is a Red Bennies regular and several are reigning Miss Burlesques from around the country. First up, Precious Gift’s opening ensemble act played out like the demented love-child of a silent Larry Semon comedy of the 20s and a Marx Brother’s routine. From the wings crept spectacled, moustachioed flashers stalking a not-so innocent school girl played by the delightful Becky Lou. The routine was familiar, but the mood, spectacle and taste were not. The crowd knew exactly when to respond and – like a breath of fresh air – didn’t need to be artificially provoked. The show’s content dictated to the audience on its own terms and the crowd participated rather than observed. This is an important element of Precious Gift’s show as the crowd didn’t seem at all versed in burlesque etiquette, learning very quickly as Becky Lou’s snappy Vagina dentata signified once and for all that this was not usual night at Red Bennies.
The solo acts shared the uncanny quality of being expected and familiar in equal measure as the ladies of Precious Gift bent an already out of shape formula beyond recognition. Honey B. Goode’s elegant foray into bathroom flatulence had the crowd screeching. Lallah L’amore punched the stock standard (and frighteningly zeitgeist-y) image of the domestic 50s housewife in the solar plexus by stuffing sausages down her panties and smearing yeast around her mouth (it has to be seen to be believed). Peachey Dream water-birthed a string of spawn to a pounding medley of Enya and will.i.am complete with contraction crumps and erect nipple teats. Dream’s act had a party of Hen’s sloshing Midori cocktails mouthing “OMG” before erupting into fits of hysterical laughter. Betty Blood had the opportunity to literally fuck censorship and to ejaculate uncontrollably in a romantic tryst founded on a wonderful bed of brash, shallow and deliberately provocative satire (an element much missed in regular burlesque). Not only were the audience pummelled by the lovely ladies’ solo “celebration[s] of female sexuality”, there were also several duos and trios that rounded off a show that was unafraid to be messy, rude or just fun.
Whether the audience took a political message home or not doesn’t really matter. ‘Sex Pest’ gives us the wonderful pleasure of forming absurd sentences like those above to describe an art form that is able to provoke, titillate and amuse us by revelling in its illegitimate history. That’s a precious gift that safe, witty and even sexy burlesque censors us from. The show was not without foibles. There was a slow turn around between the acts. But, this is forgivable as the single, hardworking stagehand kept the audience entertained between acts. It was also a wonderful excuse to hit up Red Bennies well-stocked and classy bars. I’m not sure about the technical glitches mentioned in the Herald Sun’s review. Perhaps it was the venue’s fault. I was lucky enough to not notice. Wine is also a fine remedy to such a concern.
Aside from the show, there also another reason for such a long-winded review of this delightful and disgusting show:
At their best, reviews like Patrick Horan’s serve more as a high school teacher’s marking key than an interesting or even serviceable critique. The reviewer seems content to tick off his own narrow-minded and exceedingly dull expectations of what he’s used to. If ‘Sex Pest’ doesn’t fit the model of what burlesque is or isn’t, this is to be something celebrated or at least discussed in an interesting fashion. Unfortunately, Horan’s review is further evidence of the Herald Sun’s resolve to promote a substandard and mediocre reviewing culture as their critic’s words plop from the their pens like grey fat from a George Foreman grill. I give this review ★½.
If the burlesque community is to thrive, the criticism of it can’t focus on what their art should be, but instead of what it could be and what it does. ‘Sex Pest’ reminds us of this vital industry life sign by smearing all over our faces.
And the crowd seem to love it.
A small plea to Melbourne’s burlesque community; don’t let your own fascinating and vibrant art form be dictated by boring critics like Horan. Don’t let it consume itself in a cycle of self-replicating sepia photographs of sanctioned, middle-brow fun. Embrace ‘Sex Pest’ in its “broad, bawdy mess of innuendo and dick and fart jokes that’s downright unpleasant at times”.
You’ll love being filthy as much as I do.
Applications are open for His Majesty’s Theatre’s popular, exciting and interactive youth theatre workshop programme MajKidz 2013.