wed 23/07/2014

Interview: Ursula Martinez, striptease artiste | Theatre reviews, news & interviews

Interview: Ursula Martinez, striptease artiste

Burlesque diva tells how fans' emails inspired her new Barbican strip show

Ursula Martinez: nudity is something she reckons she does wellHugo Glendinning

“I’ve never sought fame. Yes, I want my work to reach a wider audience, I want recognition for my art. I could have chosen to put it on my website, on the internet myself years ago. I didn’t want to because I feared what would happen if I did. When it did, the very thing that I had feared is exactly what did happen. For the same reason, when I’ve been asked to be on TV shows I’ve always turned them down.”

MartinezUrsula Martinez is a cult figure. A favourite on the alternative theatre and queer cabaret circuit for more than a decade, her credits range from a trilogy about ageing, Me, Me, Me!, to  co-creator and performer with the famous Duckie and Barbican Christmas shows, Office Party and C’est Barbican!. It is, however, her striptease act, teasingly known as Hanky Panky (picture right by Christopher Green), that has suddenly jettisoned her into international fame, cyber-notoriety and that has now become the basis of her latest show, My Stories Your Emails, opening at the Barbican tomorrow night.

First seen at last year’s Queer Up North festival, co-commissioned by them with the Barbican and directed by long-time collaborator Mark Whitelaw, My Stories Your Emails is Martinez’s way of striking back, regaining control of herself and her work. Perhaps Martinez should have seen it coming that even in these liberated times a striptease involving a red hanky that disappears then reappears with increasing daring from various parts of her body should be ripe for pillage. But the fact that Hanky Panky was posted on the internet without her permission certainly did take Martinez completely by surprise.

For her, you see, the act is no big deal. Just one of many in her cabaret repertoire, it also, she claims, involves one of the easiest magic tricks in the book. “I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager,” she laughs. Hanky Panky has been in existence for a decade. It was invented, says Martinez, at a drunken cocktail party she was hosting for friends. They were entertaining each other and it grew out of that. As for the nudity, well, it’s just something she reckons she does well. “That’s what performers are,” she says, “people who find things they’re good at. If it stands out, that’s an extra bonus.”

But it’s not just the fact of the striptease that has had audiences hollering all round the world. It’s her style. Martinez is a class act and the routine is carried off with a delicious sense of fun, timing and authority. Humour is a Martinez trademark. She is the daughter of Anglo-Spanish parents from south London – her father was a physics teacher with his own brand of presentation when it came to experiments and lecture-demos. They are also nudists who would all go on holiday together.

It is funny. Not all of it. Some bits are a little bit shocking, a little bit disturbing and a little bit provocative.

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Apparently it seems that Benazir Bhutto was also a fan of Ursula Martinez, as chronicled here by one of her friends. Strange choice I would say.

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