Titty Bar Ha Ha review

Assembly, George Square


Given this show’s name and its publicity material, which shows one of its two performers holding a couple of little bluebirds in front of her naked breasts, you’d be excused for thinking it was a burlesque act. Turns out not: a form of performance whose look and style are apparently worth exploiting to draw a crowd is, we are larkily but unironically informed in the opening song, just pretentious stripping. The problem isn’t just that this is a bit rich; it’s that if the creators of ‘Titty Bar Ha Ha’ paid attention to the best burlesque out there, they could learn a lot about how to structure a performance, how to create successful audience interaction and what actual satire looks like. So, if ‘Titty Bar Ha Ha’ isn’t burlesque, what is it? It’s a sort of semi-organised entertainment combining songs and games, set in a 1943 bomb shelter-cum-speakeasy and hosted by good-time girls Hope and Gloria. The duo have decent lyrical and musical skills (a duelling kazoo number is a highlight) but despite the show’s veneer of debauchery – Hope and Gloria are a little bit dirty, a little bit boozy and forever saying ‘fuck’ – the sexual sensibility here is far from progressive. Masturbation is okay, apparently, but vaginas are smelly and anal sex a bit shameful. And while our hosts are good at working a crowd, working with individual audience members – a major aspect of this flimsily structured show – is a different story. The artist’s invitation to the audience to collaborate is the essence of why cabaret is so exciting and has such radical potential. But this only works if the terms of the collaboration are made clear and its purpose is to unlock the agency and imagination of those invited on stage. This show does the opposite. Hope and Gloria seldom establish the nature or stakes of any given interaction with assurance, and as soon as a volunteer runs with an idea, starts to show off or otherwise deviates from the anticipated interaction, they’re at sea. When the collaboration does run to plan, the volunteer is a warm prop at best, and generally a target of low-level humiliation. It’s this consistent blocking of potential sources of creativity and surprise – its conservatism in form as well as in sensibility – that makes ‘Titty Bar Ha Ha’ feel like a dispiriting hiding to nothing. Call it a sense of humour failure if you like but I came away feeling I'd been watching a warden posing as a libertine.

For more from Ben Walters in Edinburgh, follow him @not_television

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