You step out of the fresh, cold air that is Bethnal Green on a Thursday night and join the queue that’s just inside the entrance of the local Working Men’s Club. You can’t quite tell what lies behind the swing doors…but you do start to notice that almost everybody knows what to expect from the evening’s entertainment. And they can’t wait till it gets going.
Inside, there is a warm and welcoming space with a careful plotting of chairs and tables: the crowd swells unobtrusively. The four corners of the hall already buzz with activity. The bar hogs an area in the back, and opposite (in a more contained area) is a delightful cake stand manned by “Hooray Henry”. Small red lights and a mirrorball… a makeshift changing area…songsheets…and raffle tickets.
My tickets are sold to me by a handsome, well-dressed lady. When I say well dressed, I mean it. The bandages are a result of this lady’s tooth being removed: moreover, the tooth (and the pliers that removed them) are the first prize in the raffle. What I am trying to say is this: I am in the presence of Audacity Chutzpah, one of the clown lynch-pins of the Blue Stocking Society. And I’m looking at a horribly funny (or teribly witty if you prefer) portrayal of a character to which I find myself particularly drawn.
I haven’t started to tell you about the night of Burlesque and Cabaret itself, but the exchange between Ms. Chutzpah and myself speaks volumes about why the Night is so much fun. It’s about an open, attentive and active audience in league with a group of dedicated and enlightened peformers. It’s not over reliant on technology or a high budget – that’s a good thing. And there is a good mix of music, movement, minimal clothing and mime.
The opening act on this particular night was a new routine devised by Ginger Blush, featuring herself as a newly-cracked chick emerging from…an egg. It’s quite bright, very feathery and leaves a miniscule area of mess.
Kate Lucas is an up-and coming comic: she filled her spot with songs about stalking, loathing (a cheerful number called ‘I hate you, Bastard’) and self-advertising. I like musical comedy a lot, so this went down well.
Ms. Lambchop Magoo’s act was next. This was a popular routine given by a very determined performer: when she sets her mind to what her actual routine will be, it always amuses and works out well. On the night we got both mathematics and burlesque: and when Ms. Magoo shows her hair off to crown her moves it was rightly greeted with cheers and calls.
Shirley Windmill’s big British marrow was another hit of the night. This was partly because the routine grew to an unusual length, surprising everybody (including Ms. Windmill herself). Never mind though: she stretched herself to new heights, and with the crowd’s support left the stage triumphant. The marrow was not damaged.
Then there was Hannah Ballou, who delivered a small set of stand-up comedy from an American perspective: nice. Also the Janus Sisters, a musical double-act joined at the (one) hip, seemingly put together by an all-knowing theatre God. Creating their laughs by turning, revolving and revealing their instrumental dexterity, here was another success.
The Blue Stockings’ honorary host for all of this was the delightful Kiki Kaboom. Hers was a busy night: she appeared in a number of guises and fetching costumes (most of these are reproduced here in the gallery), led the audience in a nonsensical bout of ‘Military Fitness’ and (best of all) sang in a commanding voice about the needs of her ‘pussy’.
All this…and I still haven’t quite covered (if that’s the word) the raffle, the surreal sing-a-long and other incidental jollies. And I’m not sure that I’ve done justice to the small group of artistes led by Tricity Vogue (Madam Treasurer, chanteuse, order keeper) who made the night as sharp, bright and brilliant as it was. I do know it was well worth the journey east.
I went back to the Bethnal Green air much the warmer inside: my mind a fizz of names and props, and my hair thrown back covering the patchy spots. I can recommend that you take the Blue Stocking Society to your hearts yourself by reserving that last Thursday in the month, taking a bus or a tube to Bethnal… and paying them a visit.