Risque business

Burlesque shows are titillating audiences, Ron Cerabona writes

The Pocket Rocket, The Showgirl Like No Other, Get Wet For Art. Reading the names of the acts in Finucane & Smith's Glory Box is like being transported back in time to a burlesque show. Which is, perhaps, the point since Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith have had international success and acclaim with their Burlesque Hour. Begun in Melbourne in 2004, its modern take on an old art form has won eight cabaret awards and played to tens of thousands of people around the world.

Finucane and Smith last strutted their stuff in Canberra three years ago. Finucane says, ''In that two weeks we broke The Street Theatre's box office records for the time.''

They also attracted many people who had never been to the theatre before.

Now, in a new show, Finucane & Smith's Glory Box, Finucane says, they are returning to the Street with ''wild new artists and acts''. Canberra is the grand finale of a eight-month Australian tour.

And what are the sorts of things we can expect?

Finucane says Anna Lumb, the above-mentioned Pocket Rocket, is ''the darling of European circus clubs, absolutely action-packed and dynamic''.


One of Lumb's pieces involves a hula-hoop routine to The Beach Boys' I Get Around. But it's not just any hula-hoop routine.

''It's just amazing, she explodes on stage and she ends up taking about 100 hoops.''

Another Lumb piece is a trapeze act with a film noir feel set to David Bowie's Rock and Roll Suicide.

An ''amazing new talent'' is Paris-based Holly Durant who does a ''Dance of the Seven Veils'' to Donna Summer's I Feel Love with 30 metres of green chiffon.

Finucane was dubbed ''The Empress of Provocative Variety'' in Europe and it's a title she is happy to own. In this show she performs ''an erotic homage to art'' titled Get Wet For Art, originally performed at the National Gallery of Victoria with a nod to its water wall.

''It's wild, crazy and silly, a tease. Yes, the ceiling does rain. People do get given umbrellas.''

Maude Davey - she's '' The Showgirl Like No Other'' - does a ''gorilla showgirl'' act with what Finucane calls ''a very unexpected ending'' and a Moulin Rouge-meets-stage-diving act to the Angels' Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?

''You know the answer to that, don't you?'' Finucane teases, alluding to the traditional and mostly unprintable audience response to the song's title phrase that begins ''No way''.

There's more, but Finucane doesn't want to give it away.

She was born in Perth and studied environmental science but had what she calls a ''potted palm epiphany'' in Canberra while sitting under one of those very plants at the national capital's airport, exhausted after working a 100-hour week.

''A friend in a glamorous Polish theatre troupe said, 'You look terrible' and I said, 'I'm going to quit and try acting.' ''

And she did. She was housemates with a director at the time in Fitzroy and got cast in a Melbourne Fringe play, which began her new - and more fruitful - career.

This is far from the first burlesque show that's been on in Canberra this year. Why does Finucane think burlesque shows in general and theirs in particular are so popular?

''It picks the eyes out of so many art forms: classical Japanese theatre, butoh, Bollywood, Gothic, go-go dancing, everything from sideshow to ballet, circus to music hall,'' she says.

And she thinks that even - or perhaps especially - in a world that increasingly indulges in home-based technology for its entertainment, people love the live spectacle and the opportunity to experience a show communally.

''They love getting together and having a wild and fun time,'' she says. And burlesque, with its combination of humour, irony, the seductive and the subversive, certainly promises that. It's not every night you get the opportunity to have bits of feather boa fly off stage into your hand.

Finucane & Smith's Glory Box is on at The Street Theatre, 15 Childers St, Canberra City West on November 28 and 29 and December 4, 5 and 6 at 8pm, November 30 and December 1 and 8 at 8.30pm and December 2 at 6pm. Tickets from $42. Bookings: 6247 1223 or thestreet.org.au.