Adelaide Fringe 2011
Rita Fontaine is the centrepiece of ‘A Doll’s House’ as the drag king compère Johnny Castradia. Over a slightly too-long 60 minutes she holds together a collection of burlesque/sideshow acts performed by South Australian burlesque dancer Flavella L’Amour and two other performers (names unknown) who were last minute ring-ins when those formerly advertised “couldn’t get time off from their day jobs”.
Over the course of the show Rita/Johnny transforms from Renaissance Dandy to smouldering torch singer with a teasing transgender rewrite of “I ain’t got nobody”. S/he tells us at the start “burlesque is not acting, it is living out fantasies on stage” but with most of the other acts I think it was still the male audience members whose fantasies were being attended to. Burlesque can be a great vehicle for positive play with roles/sensuality, as its resurgence within the feminist and gay community demonstrates, but when it is just about ‘taking it off’ punctuated by pelvic thrusts it might as well be Crazy Horse and not a theatre venue.
Flavella L’Amour is clearly a trained dancer and demonstrates the most technical virtuosity incorporating cartwheels and splits into her undressing. Her costumes are quintessentially burlesque with firstly a ‘period’ pink satin and sequinned number complete with bustle and parasol…and now it seems I have been reduced to writing a fashion review! But it is all about the glitz …and the g-string and pasties, which we get to after three musical tracks moving from parlour posing to MTV moves. Her later act pulls out all the stops when her undressing is outdone by the addition of a live two metre slithering accessory that is an outrageously apt metaphor for what she is inspiring in others’ trousers.
The tallest, most tattooed and only other speaking performer gives us classic sideshow stunts as the ‘Princess of Pain’. It is classic build up and audience whoop up with “Do you want to see me do it?!” as she demonstrates the lethal sharpness of her various tools of torture on a cucumber. The danger builds from mousetraps to ladders of swords in this slick circus act delivered in titillatingly Burlesque style.
The other dancer/stripper seemed the least experienced performer without either dance or circus skill to fall back on. However, she made a good go at incorporating a gimmick to frame her disrobing including a play on Edward Scizzorhands beheading paper dolls tucked in her fishnet stockings.
MC Rita, assisted by a stagehand in frog costume (the handsome Prince in the wrong form re-iterated), is the classiest doll in this house. Her great timing, strong voice (spoken and singing) and confident stage presence means she plays off the audience with ease and holds the show together. It is her gradual transformation to the red velvet Hayworth-esque finale that demonstrates the best example of Burlesque tease with class.