‘Rouge’, by Highwire Entertainment

Review from: Underbelly Circus Hub (Beauty), Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 19th August 2019

Being sexy is hard for most people. Which is why, amongst the many other high level skills in Highwire Entertainment‘s Rouge, we should also acknowledge every single performer’s skill of being damn sexy. Most people in an audience can’t perform the acrobatics and dance numbers these performers can, but they also can’t look across a room and fill that room with sexual tension either. Both are hard to do on stage I suppose. But this perfect act they put on, of all the six performers finding every other one of their number sexy, is what drives this fantastic show.

The stage is set, the audience pile in with their beers and wines, pink lights swirl, and large pillars of light rise up like pink swirling champagne at the rear of the stage. The sound track is jumping and already has people chair dancing or singing along.

Paul Westbrook, our ‘sort of’ host welcomes us to the show and gleefully sets a naughty tone, one that will make audiences keep their eyes on him for the rest of the show. It begins with a bang as all our performers are up on stage, dancing and generally admiring each others bodies. The moments between acts are brief so that characters and themes meet and blend. Some are clearly more burlesque acts, and some are group dance acts. Together they create a show that’s not quite circus, not quite cabaret, not quite burlesque, but a daring mix of all three. Live opera singing accompaniment from Issie Hart increases the interest in multiple acts, through comedy and an emotive presence. Even when her headset microphone fails to work well she belts out the song, and continues to interact with the performance on stage.

As mentioned, the skills are many in this late night show: whips, straps, chairs, hoops, Cyr wheel and heels… they’ve got it all. And acro, lots of acro. Every performer is multi-skilled, sneaking gold-star level tricks into sometimes humourous and down-played acts – a testament to their craft.  Highlights of the show include sexy unicorns, audience participation in a chair stacking act, and a lonely sexy lamp that goes clubbing. It begins to sound like a very surreal and disjointed show when you put it like that, but Rouge maintains a strong emotional thread throughout. And that is the celebration of sexiness! As well as a refreshing idea that consent is of high value. Not just seen respected through the acts’ characters and performers, but between performer and audience. A reason many can find cabaret or burlesque off-putting is the fear of being forced onto stage, or coming a bit too up and close with performers. There is no worry of that here, the audience are always made to feel safe and welcome; we are in on the joke, but we don’t have to be part of the punchline. The whole embarrassed man with a scantly clad performer on his lap is a very worn out trope now anyway.

It doesn’t go unnoticed that this show deliberately shuns expectations, defies what people maybe thought they were coming to see, but nobody appears to walk out disappointed. This style of cabaret is just what the Fringe needs, representation that doesn’t box itself in. This is a show that welcomes in all kinds of sex and love, embraces it, then gives it a big sexy kiss on the cheek and sends it back out into the town with a rouge lipstick mark right across its face.

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