sat 29/02/2020

Exposed: Beyond Burlesque | reviews, news & interviews

Exposed: Beyond Burlesque

Exposed: Beyond Burlesque

The provocations, humour and revelations of burlesque

Dirty Martini's take on America - less scales of justice, than wads of dollarsAnde Whyland

There’s a wealth of stories in Exposed: Beyond Burlesque, a highly articulate, visually flamboyant and finally moving documentary journey around the wilder edges of the performance genre. Director Beth B, a veteran of New York’s experimental film world, followed her eight subjects over the course of some years, and allows each of them to speak for themselves with full honesty and considerable humour, while at the same time creating a fluid picture of this “immediate, honest and sometimes brutal art form,” as British artist Mat Fraser describes it.

They come from a range of backgrounds, but share a sense of having stood out from the rest of society; they’re “freaks and outsiders, from the island of misfit toys”, as another of them, Tigger!, puts it. Growing up through various forms of personal rebellion, they’ve negotiated – and go on negotiating – their different forms of identity, sexual, gender or otherwise. Drag and nudity are only part of their full-in-your-face performances. They have long discovered the importance of comedy in putting their messages across: “If you want to shove politics down someone’s throat, get ‘em laughing first,” Tigger! insists.

“Be bawdy, over-the-top, smart, eloquent,” urges Dirty Martini, explaining that while striptease is little more than voyeurism, burlesque really has something to say. In her “Patriot Act” sketch she first appears with the scales of justice (main picture above), before ripping ahead into an analysis of American consumerism, first digesting fistfuls of dollars through her mouth, before extracting them from her rear end in a long string, like sausages. Think about it.

Each is so articulate that it’s hard to single any one of them out; the sense of community is strong too, centred on locations like New York’s Slipper Room, or Coney Island’s Sideshows by the Seashore. It’s a knowledge that’s handed on almost from generation ot generation: Dirty Martini was “drag mother” to Rose Wood, choreographing his/her first acts (the gender issue is complicated not only by the dressing-up, but by the fact that Wood is in the process of operations to add female breasts to a male body). Wood takes on issues of religion, too; born Jewish, one of the performer’s acts is as traditional Rabbi Rosenwood (“gender and religion put together, what a burden that must be”), who, with swinging Orthodox locks, does things you wouldn’t expect with a bottle.

it grabs the attention with its humour and colour, but leaves much to think about afterwards

Mat Fraser (pictured, above right, by Laure Leber) may be British, but he’s absolutely at home in this community (he’s married to another of Beth B’s subjects, Julie Atlas Muz: the two perform together, most recently in the Young Vic’s pre-Christmas production of Beauty and the Beast). Born with malformed arms as a result of thalidomide, Fraser finds empowerment in his playing on the stereotypes of his reality, and manages that very paradoxical thing, becoming “accepted as an equal” by pointing out the differences. There’s a sense of real celebration in the film’s final scene, played out by Fraser with Muz to the strains of “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!/The truth is marching on…”.

These performers have been on their own long, often difficult journeys to discover their personal truths and identities, and part of the success of their acts is how they change us, the audience, making us reconsider our expectations. Exposed brings their stories together with engrossing poise: it grabs the attention with its humour and colour, but leaves much to think about afterwards.     

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Exposed: Beyond Burlesque



These performers have been on their own long, often difficult journeys to discover their personal truths and identities


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters