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G-STRINGS, FISHNET STOCKINGS AND PERKY PASTIES SERVED WITH SATIRICAL WIT

Print Version

SKINDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST HARLOT
written by Cubby Altobelli
directed by James Kiesel
presented by GDP Productions

at Fringe Bar, 26 Allen St, Wellington
From 5 Mar 2014 to 8 Mar 2014

Reviewed by John Smythe, 6 Mar 2014


Director James Kiesel introduces the show in a low-key fashion, presumably to subvert any expectation of the high-octane razzmatazz some burlesque shows go for, and he ensures we know we have permission to “hoot and holler” when “beautiful people start taking their clothes off.” He unbuttons, we oblige …

The title – Skindiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Harlot – is redolent of porn films one used to see in displayed the adult section of a video store. But Philadelphia-based GDP Productions bills it as “An Indiana Jones burlesque” and “the latest in our ‘burlesque for the thinking man and the drinking man' series” – which is interesting given it is the women in the audience who are the most vocal in their appreciation.

Instead of a badly written and acted script, then, which tenuously links explicit sex scenes, Cubby Altobelli's burlesque version is often witty and, here, quite well performed, between the obligatory strip tease routines. What adds greatly to the vein of satire is that while the characters are gender-appropriate to the genre, the lead role casting is gender-reversed.

Foxie Hart (most of the cast have burlesque stage names) plays an astutely nuanced Skindiana Jones: blissfully blind to his cultural chauvinism; susceptible to strange allergies; unwittingly selfish, a bit thick – and a suitably sexy mover.  

His arch nemesis, Renée Emile Bellechiene, is played with stylish French arrogance by Laura Saurus and, for my money, her strip is the best of the many.

Victor Victorious (a.k.a. Eli Joseph) brings vulnerability, pathos and an acerbic twist to Marion Morningwood, the damsel in distress – who may or may not be the titular ‘harlot' (the plot details get a bit mangled at times).

Alexander Sparrow is the puppeteer for a Kiwi hand-puppet who plays “the composite character, Siggy: sometimes useful; sometimes Nazi,” and his aptitude for keeping the pace flowing serves the production well. Sparrow also does a cameo as an Arab swordsman in a splendid spoof of a famous scene – although it's not a pistol Dr Jones whips out to confound him.

In a tutorial scene, where Skindy tries to explain the intricacies of his mission, a trio from a cappella group The Victory Rollers, dressed (to undress) as schoolgirls, offers a beautifully harmonised Andrews Sisters number while dancing exotically.

Less well choreographed is Willow Noir's jet plane dance, where the ‘strip' is long, red and wound around her body, to begin with anyway. The sticking points need attending to.

In his Chase Buttley persona, director James Kiesel steps in for the indisposed Andre Corey to do the male strip as a Nazi. And the best costume of the night, featuring golden wings, arises from a treasure chest, worn and divested by Gracie Hart to complete the striptease component.  

The quest for the Covenant of the Lost Ark gives the story its forward momentum. One of my favourite bits, for its comically ingenious coverage of what would-be high action sequences on screen, involves Skindiana reporting back to Marion – bound, gagged and abandoned in a tent – while also confronting a dilemma concerning kebabs.  

What lets the show down badly is the scene-changes in dead silence. While most are mercifully brief, they still suck the energy right out of the space so there is no sense of a well-wrought structure building to a climax – which is surely a fundamental need in burlesque, no matter how cheap and cheerful the aesthetic.

Surely music and choreography should be employed to make the transitions part of the show. The committed performers deserve better from their director and technical team. And a programme wouldn't go amiss, either, to give credit where it is due (I had to ask for a hand-written list and it didn't include designers or crew).

The opening night audience was highly supportive and into the genre. If you like your spangled G-strings, fishnet stockings and perky pasties served with satirical wit, this could well be to your taste.
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