A game of burlesque

Creating a parody of the world-wide television smash Game of Thrones comes with a huge responsibility, and a lot of sex and violence, as Natasha Rudra writes.

Performer Meluxine on the iron throne for the Jaded Vanities' <em>Game of Thrones</em> burlesque show.
Performer Meluxine on the iron throne for the Jaded Vanities' Game of Thrones burlesque show. 

"What do you think?"asks Daenerys Targaryen, examining herself critically in the bathroom mirror of the Canberra Times' newsroom.

The mother of dragons is perfect. Her cascading silver-white hair is braided loosely across her head. She wears an embroidered azure tunic, and black leather boots. A claw pendant hangs from a cord around her neck. She looks as fresh and beautiful as the day she and her dragons conquered the slave city of Astapor.

Model Anne Duffy as <em>Games of Thrones</em> character Khaleesi, queen of the Dothraki.
Model Anne Duffy as Games of Thrones character Khaleesi, queen of the Dothraki. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Then Russall Beattie climbs into the ladies' room to adjust her dress, which is held together mostly by safety pins. "You won't be able to bend from the waist down," he warns, tugging the fabric close over her back. Daenerys, unconcerned, leans in to look at her temples. "I just dyed my hair dark last night," she laughs. "It's showing, do you have another pin?"

Beattie is the choreographer and producer of Game of Thrones Burlesque, a show that aims to do exactly what it says on the tin, uncovering Westeros in large swaths and bringing more heat to the stage than a roomful of dragons. Canberra model Anne Duffy, who is not in the show, is here to show off Beattie's elaborately detailed, if yet to be finished, costumes.

There is a week and a half of frantic preparation still to come before the show opens in Canberra on October 26 and Beattie - a huge, exuberant man in a tank top that shows his tattoos - is still casting, costuming, choreographing. And he's got two other burlesque shows running at the same time. Clearly, in the game of burlesque production, you win or you die. "I'm just good at multi tasking," he laughs, handing Duffy the silvery wig to put on. The hit TV series, in which rival families compete to rule the fictional medieval land of Westeros, is soaked in blood, gore and sex. The original novels, by George R. R. Martin, are pretty much the same. There's nudity in most episodes of the TV show, at least one or two beheadings and let's not even talk about what happened to Theon Greyjoy's spare parts. Surely the burlesque version of the show should actually be reining it in a little? "That could be someone else's idea - it's not mine. I've got to push it to the max," Beattie chortles.

"We sexed up Star Wars but Star Wars was easy compared to [this]. How do you out-sex Game of Thrones?"

Beattie's answer is to pull on emotions - conflicting emotions. So one of the main acts in the show is a sexy routine involving Jaime and Cersei Lannister, the golden-haired twins who seek to cement their family's grip on the Iron Throne. "My main goal with Jaime and Cersei was to create an act that made people question liking it, knowing that the context was they were brother and sister," Beattie says. "[It's] something to unnerve people but turn them on. And it does, they should feel guilty [for enjoying it]." Beattie also wanted to play on the conflicting traits in each character.

"Some people love Jaime and there are some people who hate Jaime and [the characters] do a lot of things that are very complex," he says, though he admits there's one exception - "everyone hates Joffrey".

Beattie compiled music and choreography for each character based on Martin's own inspirations. For instance, when turning the teenage king in the north, Robb Stark, into a burlesque act, he thought about the idea of the north. "You go to the original research and it's based on Scottish kings so we got a lot of Celtic images and Scottish music with Irish dancing," he says, and then roars with laughter when asked how anyone can make Irish dancing sexy.

At the photoshoot in a park on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, Duffy's exotic ensemble gets a bit of attention from a group of kids practising parkour in a playground. She poses in a tiny, overgrown amphitheatre and Beattie strides around, swinging a prop helmet that's meant to be worn by one of the Unsullied, the eunuch slave warriors freed by Daenerys Targaryen. He pulls out his mobile phone to show off pictures of costumes and props. He shows off a video of a test for the White Walker prosthetics - a man in salmon slacks and a skivvy is seated in a chair, head bowed. When he lifts his head to the camera, his face is a death mask of white veins and his eyes are a burning LED-bright blue. It's not burlesque - it's real enough to make you squeal like fat Sam Tarly. Fans who ask, "Where are my dragons?" will be pleased to know that there will be a fire extinguisher handy during the show. The soundtrack is pop and rock songs which have been given a medieval makeover with strings and choirs.

"We haven't brought in any of the characters from the books or the next season, it's spoiler free," he says. But you have to be a fan. "You have to have seen the Red Wedding - if you haven't seen the three seasons of Game of Thrones then you need to see them now. I'm giving you fair warning."

With that in mind, Beattie set about trying to find dancers who fit the wide range of physical types on display in the show. He found a performer to play Tyrion, the dwarf scion of Lannister with a dry sense of humour and a quick wit. He found an Amazonian dancer to play female warrior Brienne of Tarth. But he had to let Hodor go - the man Beattie wanted to cast was seven foot two but there were complications, chief among them being that "he's not a performer per se, he's just really big". Beattie and his burlesque dancers' previous outing to Canberra sent sci-fi nerds into frenzy last year with Star Wars Burlesque, which featured a female Darth Vader, a golden-limbed, contortionist C-3PO and sexy dancers in abbreviated storm trooper costumes.

It was easy to see the appeal of Star Wars, Beattie says, because it had a vast fan base and was so ingrained in popular culture and consciousness. And it was easy to see why people were attracted to a sexy version of it. "The simple answer was that you're taking something from your childhood and combining it with something from when you're an adult and merging the two together in a way that doesn't take away from either one, but just adds a new experience to it," he says. "With Game of Thrones, people have just stumbled upon it in the last two years."

But though the series has had an entrenched cult following since the first novel was published decades ago, it's only had wide mainstream success when the television shows started airing in 2011.

"It's hard with Game of Thrones because it doesn't have the history to it, not like the other shows," Beattie says. But it seems to have a wider hold on the audience. "Most of the bookings are for groups, and that's the difference. It's obviously a very social thing that friends are all coming to see, it's something they can share."

Themed shows are popular in burlesque at the moment - and easy to dream up - and Beattie somewhat modestly reckons his troupe is one of the better ones out there. Perhaps it's because he's a bit of a nerd himself. He has to be a fan of the theme in the first place and he wants to be true to the original show or book or movie.

"I think that's because I care more about the fans, respecting the quality of the show and doing justice to the full source material instead of doing a parody of the source material. A true parody would be for me as close as possible to the content itself." That's why he's got 16 silver wigs, he's carrying a huge, deep scarlet gown for Cersei Lannister, the back of his weather-beaten station wagon is full of helmets, and his White Walkers look like they can only be killed by dragon glass. "It helps so much more if you see this thing you love and you understand it," he says.

Game of Thrones Burlesque is on Friday, October 25 (sold out), and Saturday, October 26, at 8pm. Canberra Theatre. Tickets $53.50. See canberratheatrecentre.com.au