Monday, December 22, 2014

'Dreams from the Darkness' at Through the Looking Glass, 21st December 2014


Last night the druids gathered at Stonehenge for the winter Solstice: Alban Arthur.  On the freezing Wiltshire fields, clad in velvet capes, antler headdresses, brass torcs and flint-topped staffs they celebrated the return of the 'Divine Child', the rebirth of the Sun. Meanwhile in Shoreditch I was at my very own bacchanalia, but the Divine we worship is far less spiritual and far more trashy.

This is Dreams from the Darkness: a relatively low-key gathering of beautiful freaks, sadistic psychopaths and sexual predators.  Taking place in Through the Looking Glass we occupy their back room.  Though the 'secret bar' is a little old-hat by now, there's still a thrill in peeling back some item of furniture to reveal a 'hidden' place; be they inside fridges, through wardrobes or in this case, concealed by a gigantic mirror.  

Hosted by Rubyyy Jones (last seen at Mimetic's Young Feminist Whores), the night features four performers.  First up was drag queen Ragina LeLumpi, whose heels and bouffant wig left her not just towering over the audience, but threatening the lightbulbs dangling from the ceiling.  The first performance was good, but it was in the second that she really shined.  In Snow Queen regalia, soundtracked by Bjork's Pagan Poetry, Frosti and Kate Bush's December Will Be Magic Again, the act became 'A Very Shoreditch Solistice', especially when she sprinkled fake snow over the audience.

Towards the back of room, two burly Men's Health-lookin' bartenders regarded all this with suspicion.  You get the feeling that a) this cabaret crowd isn't the type to glug down £10 cocktails and b) they're used to a swankier corporate clientèle than this misfit flotsam and jetsam that's rocked up on their shore tonight.  They perhaps hit their tolerance ceiling with Rubyyyy Jones' song about shoes.  Preceded by a long dialogue extract from John Waters' Female Trouble, the performance ends up with incoherent naked yelling and the aggressive hurling of heels at the bar, behind which stood the two increasingly unimpressed looking bartenders.

Desmond O'Connor
After the interval we were informed that we'd come this close to being unceremoniously ejected from the venue.  It would have made for a good story, but given what was to come I'm glad it didn't happen.  Then again, the night was to head even closer to the bone with the appearance of Blair the Bipolar Bear aka Desmond O'Connor. After a jaunty song about finding one's calling as a "cracker joke packer at a cracker packing factory" he segued into a song about a child being raped on Christmas Eve.

Ah, nothin' guaranteed to get an audience feeling festive like the musical tale of a kid being bummed up the arse by Father Christmas.  As he sang "God rest ye mental men" and "violent night / unholy night" while tossing a suspiciously lubed carrot into the story, you wonder for a moment if this is really what you want to see just before you decamp to relative's houses for babies, mulled wine and mince pies.

Constance Peach
Similar Christmas perversions were to come with the entrance of Constance Peach.  Dressed in a little girl nightie and to the tune of Cloudbusting (Kate Bush has certainly had a popular year in burlesque) she constructs a voodoo doll Santa from a pillow and a pound shop costume.  Dancing around with it she eventually plucks a man from the audience and treats him to a Christmas themed lapdance.  Gold corsets are ripped off, pasties are exposed, tits are jigged; it's all a damn good time.  I've seen a hell of a lot of burlesque acts; and let's face it, a lot of them are pretty crappy.  Now there's not much that's mindboggling new in Peach's act, but dammit, she does what she does well.

Briar Adams

As good as that was, the toppermost of the poppermost here was undoubtedly Briar Adams. A graduate of the National Theatre Ballet School, she radiates the easy confidence of someone who knows they're the most graceful person in the room.  Within a lineup of sexual chaos and sly innuendo, her dancing has an artistic purity that sets her apart from the rest.. It's all too easy for a performer to shock by flashing your genitals at a crowd, but it feels far more profound to shock with beauty.  So to Jules Massenet's heavenly music from Manon she wowed the crowd into total submission.  It's kind of a cheesy reference, but I was reminded of a quote from The Shawshank Redemption: "It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away."

Maybe I should check out some ballet sometime.  I had a lovely night - all the better for the slightly low-key, chilled out and friendly atmosphere.  This felt like a crowd of cabaret veterans, both on stage and in the audience, everyone on the same page and easy in each other's company.  And if we're going to ring in the Solstice I'd much rather do it surrounded by drag queens, ballerinas and filthy minstrels than beardy old druids hugging chilly old rocks.

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