The Gilden Merkin: Burlesque and Cabaret
Glee Club, Cardiff, Sun 20 May
The Glee Club in Cardiff Bay was turned into a twinkly, velvet draped caberet club as The Gilded Merkin brought ‘burlesque, cabaret, music and comedy’ back to the Mermaid Quay venue.
Based in Nottingham with a constantly changing cast of artists The Gilded Merkin is one of the UK’s biggest burlesque and cabaret shows.
Cabaret performer Joe Black is like the love child of Tim Burton and Glenn Close; he’s the Merkin’s host this time around and it’s hard to imagine a better one. Giving us a taste of his solo show, titled Touch of Evil: A Celebration of Villainy in Song, Black opened the evening by performing Ursula’s song, Poor Unfortunate Souls, from The Little Mermaid. Before introducing the first act he performed an hilarious mime of a burlesque performance to teach the audience, getting them warmed up. He was also darkly humorous, as with a comical and yet sinister re-imagining of George Formby’s classic When I’m Cleaning Windows – in Black’s hands the narrator sounds like he could possibly be a serial killer as opposed to Formby’s cheeky peeping Tom.
Scarlet Daggers, the woman behind The Gilded Merkin (so to speak), was the first performer of the night, opening the event with a Tiki-based striptease leading into a flag waving opening to the evening’s events.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Daggers’ flag waving was reminiscent of iconic dancer Loie Fuller but later in the evening Fuller’s Serpentine Dance was a clearly a direct influence on Eliza De Lite’s performance. Describing De Lite’s act won’t do it justice, but waving and twirling a golden cape around to a violin version of Like A Prayer was completely mesmerising – her costumes were so beautiful that it was almost a shame to see them discarded.
Both Daggers’ and De Lite’s influences have their basis in the early twentieth century – Daggers style is ’50s B-movie while De Lite was old Hollywood and Busby Berkley – while Coco Deville and Velma Von Bon Bon were firmly in the ’70s and ’80s. Deville performed a disco striptease with a glittery version of the white disco suit, removing it to reveal a disco-ball bra.
Miss Leggy Pee provided a change of pace and style to all the clothing removal – Miss Leggy Pee and Charlie the puppet, to be exact. Lip syncing a duet while working a puppet seems similar to patting your head and rubbing your stomach…and it’s probably harder than that, like a theatrical version of moving your foot clockwise and drawing a six in the air with your finger.
If there was an MVP for the evening it would be Velma Von Bon Bon who performed a striptease on a unicycle to a Village People medley: each costume was removed to reveal another Village People costume. If doing the YMCA on a unicycle wasn’t enough she ended the performance by skipping while still on the one-wheeled vehicle! Bon Bon also performed the finale of the night – in the character of a drunken Russian burlesque artist with a Dita Von Teese complex. With incredible acrobatic strength she ended by fitting into a tiny version of the giant martini glass and splashing the first couple of audience rows with water.
The Gilded Merkin is a classic burlesque with a British twist; it doesn’t take itself at all seriously and is done very well. Even in 2018 with everything going on, it’s great that this sort of saucy entertainment can still be enjoyed and with a woman the driving force behind it all.
words Chris Williams
photos Mark Boston