Tainted Cabaret has been tearing up the US and now Canada on a two month tour. Making a must-stop at Montreal’s Wiggle Room, the sold-out show featured a delightful combination of wicked, titillating, and disturbing numbers. Throughout, the theme of acceptance, especially self-acceptance in terms of both the physical and the sexual, threaded the numbers, giving the production a cohesive feel.
Local hostess Frenchy Jones got the audience prepared by giving a pre-show warning that shouting was required. Audience members quickly gave their vocal cords and boundaries a bit of work, by reciting an oath with one hand raised and the other touching (or squeezing) the ass of a neighbour. When the Tainted Cabaret members came out and invited the audience to take pictures and post them to social media, I sensed that this troupe would be different from others.
Shirley Gnome (review of her last Fringe show HERE) kept things moving between the different burlesque acts by singing her way with her gorgeous voice and big blue eyes into everyone’s hearts. Songs included The Glitter Song, about the persistence of glitter and Pillows, about forming a make-shift man out of… pillows. Perhaps my favorite was her song about going out in cotton granny panties as an alternative to the thong. Shirley is a personal favorite and if you have a chance to see her solo or not, get your tickets stat.
Burlesque is by nature risqué, but the two main performers, Ula Uberbusen and James & the Giant Pasty, had burlesque acts that felt more subversive than usual. I suppose Boylesque acts are by nature outré, given that the number of female performers far outnumbers male ones. James & the Giant Pasty offered up two solo acts. In one, he “romanced” himself, in a rather clever use of costuming to play both the sad jeans n’ leather rebel romantic and the pink suited gentleman. I especially liked his take on a conventional construction worker stripper act with its theme of Stop vs. Slow, done to Let’s Do It in the Road. Whenever he turned the sign, the act would stop or proceed. I now have something better to contemplate while stuck in the ever-present construction traffic.
Ula Uberbusen’s solo acts were taboo-crossing. She started as a grandmotherly sort who not only has sex with her cat, but becomes one. Again, clever costuming made her final reveal worth the slight discomfort.
But it was Ula Uberbusen’s final piece held the audience enthralled. She appeared in the costume of a beauty queen with a glittery face mask. As she removed each item of clothing, she revealed a body covered with words of shame and criticism — “Worthless” read one arm. “Fat” said another. This raw and thought-provoking number was extremely moving and the audience responded not by cheering as she peeled off her gloves and dress, but watching with great empathy, waiting to see how this psychologically shocking piece would culminate. Ultimately, with its message about body- and sex-shaming as a kind of prison is quite possibly the most powerful piece of burlesque I have ever seen.
The show ended with all three in a feather dance that communicates a message of acceptance and simple kindness. This last piece put the other works in context. Though there was definitely a bent towards the obscure and boundary pushing, Tainted Cabaret promotes kindness towards oneself and others. A message like that, delivered not as a statement but within the performances themselves, makes this show subversive and risqué for the psyche, while simultaneously delighting and entertaining.