‘My God’, I thought, as my gaze fell limply upon the big fat man engulfing the chair opposite, ‘what a big fat man’. There was little else to look at, you see. The advertised start time being apparently more suggestion than anything approaching fact, and the fascinating novelty of my wearing a smart shirt had long since evaporated. I’d have noticed him anyway, I’m sure, because he was heavingly noticable, and not just for being fat – most of the men in the audience sat somewhere past portly on the scale. It was instead the particular configuration of his fatness: he was large, but quite square. Generously substanced, but with a treacle-thick lifelessness that compounded his perfection as a symbol of grubby, animal masculinity. And as I stared at him staring at the stage in expectation, an overwhleming temptation for cruelty swelled inside me – and bubbles still clearly in this description.
‘It’s not art, it’s girls taking their clothes off!’, a friend offered when I explained what I’d be doing that night. I suspected myself of agreeing with them – not on principle, but in particulars – but convinced myself aloud that this was, regardless, An Opportunity, and more importantly a free one, and it seemed foolish to cast judgement without at least giving it a go. After all, I liked Moulin Rouge. But of course life is never as fun as the movies make out, and mundanity insisted upon wriggling its way in to every available orifice of the experience. The night has to bill itself as enacting some glamorous, bedazzling escape from real life, because under anything approaching normal circumstances the matter-of-fact proclaims itself: burlesque is about watching girls take their clothes off.
The formula is a prettily simple one: girl + music – costume. The fatal flaw at Coco that night was in providing the ‘music’ aspect. As we overheard during the midway fag break, certain people didn’t show up for the soundcheck beforehand, so for almost the entire show the dancers were gyrating to intermittent silence. To their credit the compere took to the microphone eventually, with her amazing haircut, and sang along for one of performances, and the band too returned to the stage once it was clear the soundsystem was buggered. But in all it lent an air of faint tragedy to the whole thing and, as the big fat man lumbered forwards, propping himself precariously by his walking stick, and all the middle-aged women tugged excitedly, hawkishly, at the sleeves of their pig-in-shit middle-aged husbands, and the girls spun out their choreography, and the bar staff struggled desperately with the audio cable against a backdrop of static, silence, and snatched fragments of the Pirates of the Carribbean theme song, I couldn’t help but hate everyone in the room a little bit.
I know it’s not sex-trafficking. I know it’s all basically fine. I’m sure the audio problems won’t be a problem again, and I do feel a little sorry for the organisers – as the top-hatted greeter complained, the night is ‘his baby’. The girls were obviously beautiful, and they definitely did take off their clothes, but I don’t much see why anyone would pay £12 for the privilege of gawping when there’s the whole internet out there. The whole experience proved more bizarre than anything else, and inspired such neurosis that I have since only managed to masturbate to the memory twice. Seven thumbs up.