Review: BURLESQUE - Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Photo by Scott Rylander
Directed and co-written (with Roy Smiles) by Adam Meggido, who founded Showstopper, with excellent choreography by Cressida Carré, Burlesque is a moving story of love, betrayal and self-preservation, set in the run-down Palace Theatre during the paranoia of 1950s America. The set and costumes, expertly designed by Martin Thomas, are evocative of the era and setting, both the glamour of the burlesque show itself and the slightly seedy backstage areas.

Freddie Le Roy (Linal Haft) and Lula Malkah (Buster Skeggs) are old hands in the seedier side of showbusiness and know their place in society. We cannot help but warm to them as the realisation comes that their days in the business are behind them. There is an obvious and genuinely affectionate chemistry between the pair on stage.
Haft plays his role fantastically well and I believed his character immediately. He is the archetypal club-owner, insulting the audience and then winning them back with a cheeky nudge and a wink.
Skeggs took a little more time to come into her own, but she did so during Act 2, when I developed a real affection for Lula. She has an excellent voice once it is warmed up, but seemed to spend a lot of time singing to the floor and not to the audience.

Of the burlesque dancers, Alicia Davies (playing Honey Hogan) stood out for me as a good all-rounder – her singing and dancing are both excellent and captivating.
Sinead Mathias (playing Georgia Mitchell) has a great voice but not very strong and is occasionally drowned out by the music, which is a shame as when she gets the chance, she really can shine.
Victoria Serra (playing Amy Delamero) genuinely looks like she belongs on the burlesque stage and plays her part excellently. For much of the show, Amy is seen as a calculating gold digger, but we warm to her when we learn more of her story in Act 2 and discover how she turned out this way.

Photo by Scott Rylander
Chris Holland (as Rags Ryan) plays the down-on-his-luck comedian perfectly and has a strong voice when he is given the opportunity to show it off. Unfortunately, Holland is let down during the suicide scene which, despite having a fantastic musical number, feels a little limp and needs to finish with a much bigger bang.
His comedy double-act partner, Johnny Reno, is played by Jon-Paul Hevey - another fantastic all-rounder – good at singing, acting, dancing and comedy.

The FBI agent, Bill Henry, is played excellently by Alex Bartram, but the character feels a little flat in places. I would like to see some conflict in the character to round him out a bit more.
Jeremiah Harris-Ward (as Saul Sunday) has an excellent voice and is someone I am definitely looking out for in the future.

Act 1 feels patchy and lacks emotional tension. However, this is vastly improved in Act 2, which is much livelier and allows the emotional situation to really come into play. Do persevere through the first half as the second is truly worth it, and is much more emotional towards the end than I expected it to be. Unfortunately, this was spoiled by the unnecessary last scene, where we see the comedy double-act bizarrely resurrected, despite Ryan’s death and Reno’s imprisonment.

The show uses its near-constant, musical numbers nicely to keep the story consistent and to move it along. These are all performed and costumed in burlesque style, even when not set in the club, which adds a lot to the show as a whole. The numbers are interspersed with plenty of humour to counteract the sexual aspect, which is entirely in keeping with the burlesque theme.

This is not a show for fans of light-hearted frivolity; it is an emotional and political drama, set to an excellent musical score (Musical Director – Duncan Walsh-Atkins) and performed by a mostly strong cast.

Adam Meggido rightly points out that there is “something intoxicating about that cocktail of showbiz and politics” and I had high hopes that Burlesque would live up to this. Unfortunately, whilst the story meets my expectations, the show itself fails to reach that same potential.

Burlesque plays at the Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, SW1Y 6ST until 18 December. Tickets £20 from