Queen of the Bluestocking Lounge

Claire Houguez profiles Lilly Laudanum and Burlesque in Swansea


Creating a burlesque routine is in many ways similar to writing a short story. A piece of music, an odd item on sale in a shop window, or something you taste or touch triggers an unfurling at the edge of your consciousness. Burlesque performers build a character and a context before the act gathers momentum. The concerns are the same: how much to reveal and when; how to subvert the historical conventions of the form; how to make the audience wait for it, want it that bit more. However it’s rare for an author to experience calls for the next part of the story with quite such urgency…

Neo-burlesque updates the traditional burlesque performance to include influences like modern dance and performance art, and has been gaining popularity since the 1990s. It has its roots in vaudeville and music hall. The original genre emerged in part from a need to out-fox the censors: the complex legislation around the striptease element of burlesque dancing led to the development of a theatrical form that titillates without falling foul of licensing laws. You may be surprised to know that, even nowadays, should a ‘pastie’ fall off your breast during a show, it is deemed best practice to cover yourself with a hand. After coming along to watch me perform as Primrose Proper in the back room of a bikers’ pub in Leicester, my mother commented that ‘people wear less on the beach than they do in burlesque’.

Bluestocking Lounge, a bi-monthly neo-burlesque night in Swansea, is gaining a worldwide name for its character-driven mix of comedy and spectacle. The success of the Bluestocking Lounge is largely due to founder and director Lilly Laudanum’s enthusiasm for building a burlesque community in Swansea. She has helped to bring out a wealth of talent from the local area: from cheesecake cutie Bella Bambina, to bus-pass burlesquers Boris and Doris Von Sneeze, and is responsible for helping me discover and develop my own persona. She is always on hand, whether to discuss a new act, or help with costume or choreography...

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