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What the Butler Saw


It's almost midnight in Dalston, an up and coming area of East London, as we
arrive at Die Freche Muse, a neo-burlesque club night that describes
itself as 'irreverent, decadent, sexually ambivalent and dissolute'. The
location had been kept secret until the day of the party. A young female
clown greets us with a wink and a flower as we duck under the arches of what
looks to be a slightly run-down Victorian building.



Stepping into the lounge, an intimate space that fits no more than a hundred
guests, it feels as though we've pulled back a velvet curtain to reveal a
scene of swinging skirt hems and wizard-puffs of smoke. We are surrounded by
besuited, shiny-shoed characters, the smell of old-school cigarettes and the
sounds of softening Dixieland Jazz.



The attire of the guests is influenced by pre-war, post-war and even Mardi
Gras styles. A young woman moves to the front of the crowd, dedicates her
next performance to 'Baron Von Sanderson', our host for the evening, and
softly croons a Billie Holiday number.



Another woman sashays her way towards the singer and begins a sensual
striptease. She seems to be a close friend of both the singer and the piano
player but not necessarily a choreographed part of the act. And so commences
an evening's entertainment of romantic, softly sensuous and sometimes rather
amusing burlesque shows.



***As dusk settles on another evening, our coach draws up at a mansion nestled
in the English countryside. Set on a huge estate in Buckinghamshire, the
Stoke Place Hotel was built for an aristocratic family in 1690, but tonight
it is the setting for a debauched country house party entitled White
Blackbird
. Within its thick walls and behind its hidden doors lie a
panoply of diversions and a plethora of delights. There are performances,
play-acting, cocktails and croquet. After a midnight feast we wander from
room to room, from pillow fight to ballroom dance, from séance to striptease,
lost in this intimate world of nostalgia and decadence.
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