As the burlesque artiste took to the stage, clad in a complex web of lingerie which looked like it might spring off with a switch or a kind word, it hit me: the English cannot be sexy
As the burlesque artiste took to the stage, clad in a complex web of lingerie which looked like it might spring off with a switch or a kind word, singing a mash-up of SexyBack and Kaa the snake's sibilant Trust In Me from the Jungle Book, it hit me: the English cannot be sexy.
The evening was designed to disprove that. Miss Polly Rae and friends were appearing at the Matcham Room at the recently reopened Hippodrome casino on Leicester Square. (The Matcham will host a variety of celebrated singers, cabaret performers and burlesque artistes in its intimate space.) There was burlesque, boylesque, stripping to Skype and reverse stripping, as well as one strapping (not stripping) Diet-Coke-break lad who did tantric turns around a rather large pole erected on stage.
Miss Polly Rae, with her pink nightclothes, be-pearled harnesses and girdles and deep red hair, compered, taking us (verbally) through her erogenous zones and what did and didn't turn her on. It wasn't obscene by any means, but it wasn't smouldering either. This is not her fault – English people are not capable of smouldering.
You might argue that I'm never going to find a woman sexy, but it's true of men too: a man taking his clothes off – as the Fully Monty showed us – is a prompt for embarrassment or laughter but rarely arousal. Miss Polly Rae… Between the Sheets was never anything less than entertaining – but it was never anything close to arousing.
I think I know why this is. As we saw at the Olympic opening ceremony last week, the English are almost incapable of doing anything without humour, and sexiness is the denial of humour. It is the po-faced flaunting of good looks. It says, 'There is nothing more to me than you can see – no sense of humour, no irony, none of those other emotions you puny mortals have. Look upon my granite abs and despair!'
Luckily, burlesque as a genre recognises this, which is why the stripping is preceded by jokes and some of the routines are leavened by humour. One gentleman posed as a nerd who was stripping to the purring Russian voice which emerged from his computer, and his dorkiness – inability to take his clothes off right, flailing dance moves – lifted the performance. It's the wink, not the flash, which is erotic.
The sex industry – those dire establishments and human beings who trap vulnerable women – has no interest in humour because it humanises the women. Amelia Gentleman reported recently from The Windmill, one of London's oldest lap-dancing clubs, and the only person laughing was the creepy owner. The women perform like robots – you keep your mind on the money, keeping your eyes on the wall, as Tina Turner once sang.
This sort of 'sexiness' is the negation of what makes us human, and any encounter which isn't going to leave you cold embraces all our more ridiculous, more complex feelings and thoughts. What's acutally sexy is the stimulation of our key erogenous zone — our brain. So if being sexy means being serious, I'll stick to being English.
Watch Miss Polly Rae as part of the Hurly Burly Show; not entirely safe for work…