Art & Design blog: Burlesque and cabaret

XETH interviews Neo-burlesque star Miss Polly Rae

Artist / designer:   Miss Polly Rae
Article author:   Charlotte Bradford
Published:   Tue, 2 Feb 2016

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Photographer: William Baker

Miss Polly Rae is a British singer & dancer who is one of the leading figures on the Neo-burlesque scene. Polly’s burlesque career kicked off in 2006 after she took a course run by Jo King at the London Academy of Burlesque. She decided to form the troupe Hurly Burly performing at notorious venues including London’s Hippodrome Casino, the Garrick Theatre in the West End & Queen Elizabeth Hall.

XETH caught up with Miss Polly Rae shortly after her huge success with the burlesque revue show ‘Between The Sheets’ performed at the Southbank Centre’s London Wonderground 2015.

What’s your proudest achievement?

My dream from the start of my Burlesque career was to have “the biggest Burlesque Show the U.K had ever seen”. I achieved this with the Hurly Burly Show, we had 3 runs in the West End, my ass (see pic above) was in the London Underground!!


Photographer: Juliet Labdien

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?

Time management and having a personal life, it’s very all-consuming when you are a performer and produce shows at the same time, it’s very hard not to switch off especially at the height of a project like ‘Between The Sheets’ at the London Wonderground last Summer. It was crazy, amazing but crazy.

What are your top three favourite songs?

Vogue – Madonna

Smile – Charlie Chaplin/Nat King Cole

Gangnam Style – PSY

Photographer: Ayesha H


Photographer: Ayesha H

What is your favourite London venue and why?

It used to be the Soho Revue Bar (formally Raymond Revue Bar) but this sadly closed down a few years ago. It has been converted into ‘The Box’ now and is very different. I love the rough and ready old school cabaret venues for their nostalgia and intimacy but to all our despair they are disappearing one by one, Madame Jojo’s closed down a while ago and apparently they are trying to attack others such as the Royal Vauxhall Tavern which is such a terrible thing.


Photographer: Ayesha H

Name three creatives who have inspired you over the past 10 years?

My ‘right hand’ Klare Yaya Wilkinson, she has been my business partner since the beginning and never stops inspiring me with her ideas and creative flair.

Jo King – if it wasn’t for Jo and the London Academy of Burlesque I wouldn’t have been inspired to become a part this incredible world.

William Baker – Director of the Hurly Burly Show, inspired and taught me to take my art to another level


Have you got any exciting events coming up in the near future?

Christmas!! Haha I love Christmas, such a fun time of year with the shows on the build up and at the end of the year I get to spend time with my family. I continue to have my weekly residency at the Hippodrome into 2016 which is always fun and then I’m looking towards the Summer when I hope ‘Between The Sheets’ at the Wonderground will return.

If you weren’t a burlesque performer what other career would you have chosen?

Hard to say, it would have always been creative, I always had an interest in Hair and Make-up so very likely something in that field.

What advice would you give to people working in the creative industry?

Work hard, persist and never stop developing, educating and expanding yourself.



XETH interviews Tempest Rose

Artist / designer:   Tempest Rose
Article author:   Charlotte Bradford
Published:   Wed, 26 Aug 2015


Photographer: Zoe Hunn

Tempest Rose is an international award winning burlesque artist, singer and compere. She has been honoured to perform at some of Burlesque’s most celebrated events and is one of the few UK artists to be invited to perform for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas.

Tempest Rose is the director and producer of House of Burlesque Ltd – one of the UK”s biggest burlesque production companies with 4 highly successful runs at The London Wonderground. She also runs the House of Burlesque Academy and has taught over 3000 ladies to love themselves.

Other selected credits include three West End runs; appearances on Channel 4, BBC 3, ITV 2, The BBC Radio 2 Arts Show, MTV and London Fashion Week. She is a firm believer in burlesque’s ability to inspire, uplift, entertain and dazzle audiences worldwide and has been making a jaw-dropping career out of doing just that!

At what age did you start to take an interest in the field you work in?

I first got involved with Burlesque in 2007 when I auditioned for and joined The Kitten Club, but like most people who find burlesque, the roots of what drew me to the art form had been fascinations of mine since a young age. At the time I had already been a professional actress for 3 years and had started performing in theatre from a young age.

What are your top three favourite songs?

Argh, depends totally on my mood, time of day, weather etc! Three songs I’ve loved for many years are A Case of You by Joni Mitchell,  Silent all These Years by Tori Amos and Stepping to the Bad Side from Dreamgirls, but ask me in an hour – who knows. 5212

Photographer: Derek Bremner

What is your favourite London venue and why?

Each venue brings out a different skill and relationship with the audience so all are special and I’ve been very lucky to have worked on a longterm basis with a few, some of which have now closed sadly, who were pivotal in my own development and the history of burlesque within London – Madame Jojo’s and Volupte for example. As it’s summer I shall also mention London Wonderground which I adore, and we are in our 4th year of residency at.

Name three creatives who have inspired you over the past 10 years?

Gypsy Rose Lee – always, my favourite burlesque icon, Macklemore and Alexander McQueen.


Photographer: Terry Mendoza, Retro Photo Studio

Have you got any exciting events coming up in the near future?

We have just entered our weekly run at London Wondeground with House of Burlesque … Straight Up, a show that I have been working on since the beginning of the year, so that’s exciting. I’m also programming a new central London venue and working on our HOB Christmas revue.

If you weren’t involved in the creative industry what other career path would you have chosen?

I’m fascinated by the law, although really I probably just like watching the Good Wife and Law and Order. I think if you are a creative person you bring that element into whatever you do. It’s part of your very existence so I’m not sure choosing another career path is ever really an option. 4753

Photographer: Derek Bremner

For further information about Tempest Rose and future performances from House of Burlesque, please visit their websites and


XETH interviews Benjamin Louche of The Double R Club

Artist / designer:   Benjamin Louche
Article author:   Charlotte Bradford
Published:   Mon, 13 Jul 2015

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Copyright: Ghostdot

Winner of ‘Best Host’ at the 2014 London Cabaret Awards, Benjamin Louche is a cabaret & burlesque host and Co-producer of The Double R Club, one of the craziest nights in the capital! Louche has been magnificently seducing and serenading the UK cabaret scene since 2009 performing at legendary venues including Cafe De Paris, Leicester Square Theatre, Koko, The Lowry Theatre, Madame Jojos and Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. This year The Double R Club returns to London Wonderground at Southbank from 4th July – 1st August.  Taking inspiration directly or indirectly from David Lynch’s air of mystery and nightmare, be sure to buy tickets and witness the magic unfold!

At what age did you start to take an interest in the field you work in?

Ooh, blimey, well I was still pre-teen when I first got on stage (an am-dram Wizard of Oz -I was a munchkin!) and have been performing in one way or another ever since, stage, films, adverts etc. but I first got into cabaret in 2009; which is a very roundabout way of saying that I would have been 38.

What are your top three favourite songs?

A definitive top three would be an impossibility, but three favourites off the top of my head, right now, at this very second, would be:

Sons of The Silent Age by David Bowie, which has such an odd, beautiful, immense and doomed romanticism about it. Many, many other Bowie songs could have made the list.

Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses by Thom Yorke, with its tense, driven repetition, stuttering percussion and strange lyrical allusions.

And Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow) by The Birthday Party, which lyrically is so wonderfully brutal yet rich and inventive, all accompanied with that rolling, edgy bass line and Cave’s peerless vitriol.

But having chosen I’ve just thought of three others that I should have picked, then three others and so on…


Copyright: Ghostdot

What is your favourite London venue and why?

Again, definitive favourites are tough! I’d have to whittle it down to two:

Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, which is real ‘spit and sawdust’ cabaret, where decades of atmosphere just seeps out of the walls, it has real, tangible character and is just the perfect venue for The Double R Club.

My second choice would be the London Wonderground Spiegeltent with it’s beautiful, circular, yawning space, its stellar lighting and staging which gives us the potential to push things so much further in all manner of directions, it’s where cabaret can truly dream of becoming theatre.

Name three creatives who have inspired you over the past 10 years?

I’m afraid I’ll have to start with the obvious: David Lynch. Having always been a fan, his sense of mood, of strangeness and mystery, of absurdity, is everything we wanted The Double R Club to be (albeit refracted through our own prism). Lynch creates worlds like no one else and his sense of darkness and surreality, not to mention the many examples of ‘artificial’ performance spaces within his films, seemed like ideal fodder for cabaret that was attempting to do something different.

My next choice would be Jo King. London’s own Godmother of burlesque, founder and principle of The London Academy of Burlesque, and the first ever British inductee in The Burlesque Hall Of Fame; it was through Jo that I came into contact with burlesque, and by extension cabaret. Jo taught my wife Rose Thorne burlesque, which brought me into that world, and so without her The Double R Club could not exist. In addition, Jo is a tireless and inspirational campaigner for inclusion and positive body image. Over thirty years in the business yet still she takes no prisoners and always leaves the stage sizzling.

My final choice has to be my wife Rose Thorne. When first we got together it was accepted that I was ‘the creative one’ and she the practical. With a background as a chef and then local government it took her a long time to even admit she was creative, and yet The Double R could not and would not be the show it is without her. Whether it’s in the vitally important (and all too often ignored) skill of planning the running order, the dynamics, the ebb and flow of a show, to the lighting design of our Wonderground outings, along with a hundred other ideas and inputs, she truly is the organ grinder to my performing monkey.

Have you got any exciting projects coming up in the near future?

Lots!The Double R Club‘s second and final Wonderground show will take place on the 1st August. We can promise dreams, dread, delights… and possibly disgust! There will be sex, there will be smoke, there will be something waiting for you in the dark… It includes some of the hands-down best cabaret performers out there, including Fancy Chance, Chrisalys, Em Brulée, Twice Shy Theatre and many, many more. We guarantee you will not see another show like it anywhere else.

I have a book out! Written under my, shall we say, ‘pen name’, The Menagerie is a dark fairy tale set around a strange circus and includes 17 beautiful illustrations by Jon Attfield. The tag-line is Ever wanted to run away with the circus? Read The Menagerie and think again. A limited edition is available with extra goodies while stocks last…

On the 13th, 14th, 15th August I’ll be re-staging my one man show Being Louche for the last time. Tickets sold out last time so get ’em while they’re hot! Taking place at The Bamboo Lounge, downstairs at the lush and lovely Fontaine’s, Dalston.

September 17th sees The Double R Club’s 6th Birthday Party at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club!

If you weren’t involved in the creative industry what other career path would you have chosen?

Oh god I have no clue. Genuinely. I’m lucky enough / lazy enough to have only ever had one ‘proper’ job in my life; I have no skills whatsoever in anything practical. Robbed of the ability to write, perform or create I have no idea what would become of me; but whatever it was I feel certain it would include misery, a significant body count, and a lengthy prison term.

Website5 by Gh0stdot

Copyright: Ghostdot

For more details on The Double R Club and Benjamin Louche, please visit and

XETH interviews Amourous Ava

Artist / designer:   Amourous Ava
Article author:   Charlotte Bradford
Published:   Fri, 29 May 2015

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Photographer: Zandy J Photography

Amourous Ava is a neo burlesque performer from the Wild West coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Now based in Auckland Amourous Ava has performed in numerous shows throughout the country and internationally. She is a core cast member of the Rock n Roll Circus and Winner of Most Innovative, NZ Burlesque Festival Golden Garter Awards 2014.

At what age did you start to take an interest in the field you work in?

Well, I’ve had a passion for dancing around my room in my underwear for most of my life, so it was really only a matter of time before I brought my skills to the people… Though seriously, I first saw a burlesque show around ten years ago, and I first took to the stage to perform burlesque myself much more recently, in my early 30s. One of the nice things about burlesque is there is no age limit to performing. Because it’s such an all-encompassing performance form, all the random skills we develop pre-burlesque all seem to end up feeding into our individual performance styles.


Photographer: Zandy J Photography

What are your top three favourite songs?

This changes day-to-day. At the moment I’m rehearsing my She-Creature act for the Australian Burlesque Festival, so I’m listening to Let There Be Drums by Sandy Nelson a lot. Though not burlesque related, Rake by Townes van Zandt and the album Mutiny/The Bad Seed by The Birthday Party are on high rotation. Favourite songs don’t always translate into the right energy for performing a burlesque act to, unfortunately.

What is your favourite venue to perform in and why?

The Winchester, possibly because it’s where most of the Auckland Rock n Roll Circus shows are held, and therefore the venue I perform at most often. There is nothing like a home crowd. The Winchester is in a 1930s Art Deco building that was originally constructed for the Freemasons and has an old pub vibe, which I like. The stage is low, but it means you can get down into the crowd and the proximity makes it easier to connect with the audience. Plus Jerry (the Publican) is fantastic.

Name three creatives who have inspired you over the past 10 years?

Recently I’ve been inspired by seeing Dirty Martini perform in Auckland, by videos of Little Brooklyn’s Burlesque-o-matic act, and by a whole host of local (NZ) & Australian performers too numerous to mention.

Have you got any exciting projects coming up in the near future?

Even though issue 1 only recently came out, issue 2 of my zine / burlesque trade journal Pastie Politics is in its early stages of production at the moment. It features a bunch of contributions by performers, exploring ideas surrounding feminism and burlesque. I’m hoping to have it released for the New Zealand Burlesque Festival later in the year. Also, next month I’m performing as part of the ABF Big Tease show in Sydney, which will be a fantastic show to be involved in.


Pastie Politics Issue #1 Cover

If you weren’t involved in the creative industry what other career path would you have chosen?

My day job and other projects are also creative, so that would be a radical change of direction for me. The creative/ theoretical/idealistic aspects of science I’ve always found appealing. Maybe if I found myself in an alternate dystopian universe where all creative work was banned I would be a physicist or some other science-worker-type person. Science is rad. Climate change is real. Get immunised y’all.


To find out more about Amourous Ava’s  shows visit and to purchase Issue #1 of Pastie Politics visit


XETH interviews Sapphira

Artist / designer:   Sapphira Sapph
Article author:   Charlotte Bradford
Published:   Wed, 20 May 2015


Copyright: Beckon Media

Sapphira is a Burlesque Artiste, singer-songwriter, label owner at Domina Records and CEO/Founder of Sapphira’s Showgirls. Born in Melbourne, Australia, she recently moved to London to live with her music producer husband, Antony Silcock aka Tonestepa. We were fortunate enough to meet her in January and are thrilled to be interviewing her for the XETH Art & Design Blog.

At what age did you start to take an interest in the field you work in?

From as young as 5 years of age I was transfixed by Rogers and Hammerstein’s musicals and the old movies starring Marilyn Monroe. I entered my first talent quest at the local shopping centre in 1994 when I was 16 and sang Peggy Lee’s rendition of ‘Fever’ winning the competition and $1,000. Burlesque collided with my world in 2004 when I relocated from Melbourne to London to pursue my songwriting career. It was in the decadent underworld of London’s burlesque scene at The Whoopee Club in Notting Hill where I witnessed the striking performance of a then relatively unknown Immodesty Blaize and I slipped her a business card backstage while she was crouched over her suitcase packing up from the show. In the early days at burlesque events, I would perform as a belly dancer and jazz singer because I was enthralled by the sensuality and daring sexuality of the burlesque artists but felt too timid to perform striptease publically. For me, burlesque has been a very personal inner-journey and rite-of-passage learning to become comfortable with my own naked form and to celebrate the power of the stage, costume and performance which has provided escapism and healing in my life. It has really been in later years, as my album and songwriting have developed that I have found a way to combine all my loves into the one artistic project.

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Copyright: artist’s own

What are your top three favourite songs?

That’s a tough question, I love so much music:

1. For Priscilla – Tonestepa

(A piano ballad written for me by my husband who is a fellow pianist & music producer)

2. You’ve Got The Love – The Source Feat. Candi Stanton

3. Gorecki – Lamb

(I walked down the isle to Gorecki by Lamb at my wedding last year.)


Copyright: Maani Vadgama

What is your favourite London venue and why?

My favourite London venue has only recently been closed, it is Madame Jojo’s, 10 Brewer St, W1F 0SE in Soho. Madame Jojo’s was one of the original cabaret venues that had a true magic with flaming peacocks decorating its walls and butterflies embossed on its low ceiling, the dimly lit staircase transported audience and performers alike to a fantasy world. It was easy to travel back in time to the 1920s or 1950s within the alluring presence of its four walls. For me it is particularly significant because it is a venue where I performed at the London Burlesque Festival in 2007 and then later cut my teeth as a promoter producing my first show Shimmy Shake, a belly dancing & burlesque night. Working with the venue manager, Paajoe Gaskin was a highlight, he was so professional and supportive. The ethos of my burlesque dance academy, Sapphira’s Showgirl’s, has been to empower women realising their own potential and dreams. In 2013 I returned from Melbourne to Madame Jojo’s with 4 of my star students with whom I had formed the Sapphira’s Showgirls professional troupe, Kitty D’Vine, Ms Hunny Pottz and Laydee Bombay. I was glowing with pride to be on stage with such wonderful performers, we had become like a family. It was also at this event we were able to perform our full tribute show to Sir Richard Branson, he had responded to our YouTube campaign for flights from Melbourne to London and discounted our airfares with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. Our show was titled Burlesque or Bust – My Heart Belongs To Branson. For the full story on my crusade to meet Richard, visit

Name four creatives who have inspired you over the past 10 years?

Sir Richard Branson – Virgin Group Founder

Whilst Sir Richard is not strictly recognized as an artist, his creative entrepreneurialism and the Virgin brand which oozes with his personal flair, irreverence and charisma have been profoundly influential in my own approach to the music industry and show biz. Reading his biography Losing My Virginity has made me realize that even the most successful business people had to start somewhere and that the risk-taking gene I have inherited is not something I should shy away from. Whenever I experience self-doubt or reach a crossroads I often say to myself “What would Richard do?” I then hold my breath and dive straight in.

Julian Kynaston – Illamasqua Founder

I discovered Illamasqua, a London based cosmetics brand with outlets world-wide at a pivotal time in my artistic career and it opened my eyes to the miraculous wonders of stage make-up. I had just quit my full time job to start my burlesque dance academy and commence writing my album and it was at the time Illamasqua were breaking into the Australian market. Julian has been the driving force behind the success of Illamasqua and his own understanding of marketing brands running the Propaganda business enabled him to take the concept of producing quality stage make-up to empower people to express themselves to the world. I became a regular face at the Illamasqua counters in Melbourne, Sydney and London where my dancers, students and I would get our make-up done by exceptionally talented make-up artists for photoshoots, stage shows and TV appearances. It was this experimentation that helped me develop the stage character for my album, I call her Mystress.

Charles Billich

Charles Billich is arguably one of Australia’s finest art exports and we crossed paths at the Graham Gedde’s Figurative Art Exhibition in 2012 where I posed as Charles’ model and performed a number to open the night. His work is eclectic and has been featured in the Vatican Museum and in the palaces of Kings and Queens. While I was used to performing striptease under lights and in a fancy costume, it was extremely intimate to be sketched by Charles at this exhibition (although we were in room of 200 people). We became friends that night and now plan to work together on a special piece on my forthcoming album. The song is entitled Forbidden Fruit.


My stage name, Sapphira, is a Greek name, derived from the ancient Greek poet, Sappho. I have been researching Sappho’s history as her salacious history of writing erotic poetry on the Isle of Lesbos has had significant parallels with the inspiration I have found emerging in my own writing. Sappho was not a historical figure I became aware of until the latter stages of my album but I felt a resonance as I read more about her.


Have you got any exciting projects coming up in the near future?

2015 is possibly the most exciting year in my artistic calendar ever! I have finally finished my debut album, Mistress, which combines burlesque, electronica, dark beats and a dramatic stage show. It has taken 5 years to write the album and I fell in love with my music producer, Antony Silcock aka Tonestepa, during the process. We got married last year and after 5 years of a long-distance relationship, we are now finally together in London and we are excited about releasing the album which has a range of beautiful music encompassing the genres of dubstep, drum n bass, house and a few gentle piano ballads, too. The biggest unveiling will be the Atonement music video, shot over 4 days in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges by director Jeff Osman of Carpe Diem films and featuring co-star, Hana Vraniqi. To date, Atonement is the one creative accomplishment of which I am most proud. A huge thank you to the team including Donna Billing at Hairextrodonnaire, make-up artist Mishel Vounatsos Bratsos and photography, Pam Morris.

If you weren’t involved in the creative industry what other career path would you have chosen.

Essentially I have had two careers for long time. One has been in the business media and corporate arena where I have worked in advertising sales for all the market leaders including, Future Publishing, JCDecaux & CBS Interactive. This has enabled me to learn about the global entertainment industry, luxury brand strategy for companies like Rolex and Chanel plus large-scale sponsorship deals. Within my own company I have networked with Virgin Active, Virgin Atlantic, Agent Provocateur and cult London make-up brand, Illamasqua. My knowledge of marketing has helped me identify companies that mirror the ethos of my dance academy and record label. These two businesses, both that started as part-time hobbies, have now become fully established. Sapphira’s Showgirls and Domina Records are expanding from Australia to the UK and I am grateful I have great teams in both locations. Finally, I believe in volunteering and I run a Music Program at St Mungos in London, a support organization for homeless people as well as volunteer with More To Life, a non-profit organization that helps people with simple personal development courses. In many ways, creative ideas stream into all the things I am involved with as that is purely in my nature and the filter through which I see the world.

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Copyright: Lisa Law Photography


To find out about Sapphira’s upcoming classes and shows visit and


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XETH interviews Neo-burlesque star Miss Polly Rae

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