One of the most wondrous things about Norwich is its rich seam of alternative culture, riddled with eccentrics, oddities, and decadent entertainment.

As such, it makes perfect sense that this fine city would be home to Gossamer Thread’s Vaudeville Co., which graced the Playhouse last month with dark humour, sumptuous glamour and unparalleled grace. This time the Gossamer Thread team, comprised of Daisy Black and Alex McAleer, was accompanied by burlesque star Betsy Rose, juggling savant Rob Laver, and the human embodiment of film noir – Joe Black – acting as compère.

DaisyAlex logo

Credit: Cherry Bomb Rock Photography

Joe Black cut a Marlene Dietrich-like figure as he swept across the stage, overflowing with tragedy-tinged charisma and the kind of sickly beauty personified by the movie madams upon whom he styles himself. Between performances Joe sang to, strutted for, and engaged with a rapt audience, his persona as believable as it is peculiar. The highlight for me was his particularly entertaining ditty ‘Never Invite a Nihilist to a Dinner Party’, regardless of whether or not I agree with the sentiment.

The mind-reader Alex McAleer, with his boyishly lively yet mordant vibe, kept us guessing until the very last second as he himself acted out a struggle to guess what his volunteer/victim was thinking. Of course he knew precisely what he was doing, and his ability to not outwardly laugh at his ignorant audience is surely his most admirable skill. Despite having witnessed Alex live before, I was thrown from start to finish during both of his sets – the mark of a craftsman who knows the human mind inside-out.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching Daisy Black perform four times over the past six months, and to my glee, this Curious Cabaret was my first opportunity to see her do something distinctly more frolicsome.

A simple joke in the form of a misunderstanding about circus equipment and snacks led to the sensational sight of a woman falling to her knees and rapturously showering herself with crisps, 80s power pop blasting in the background. Daisy went on to doing what she does best: manipulating her body with impeccable timing, strength, and agility, switching from flashing hoops to glistening chains for her spellbinding second set.

The splendid Betsy Rose tantalised with two delicious burlesque routines, sensuous and flawlessly-controlled movements made all the more impressive by her choice of the daintiest heels known to man. The helpless anxiety I felt knowing that, in Betsy’s position, I would trip and shatter like a grossly oversized teapot trying to do what she does was thankfully outweighed by how enchanting she is to behold.

Finally, to fulfill the desire for something both arresting and just a little icky, there was Rod Laver. Teasing us during the first act with some card play, Rod turned his talents up to eleven later in the night with a few rounds of oral ping pong ball juggling. The culmination was a refined musical number that involved Rod firing balls at bottles filled with differing volumes of gin. Using his mouth. You’d have to be incredibly squeamish not to enjoy such a spectacle, and even then, Rod’s charm is such that audience delight is guaranteed.

As is the nature of vaudeville, Gossamer Thread’s line-up changes each time, but Daisy and Alex can always be trusted to align themselves with the finest, most enthralling performers around. And as no two shows are the same, the performances never age and never fade.

Hearty congratulations to all involved. Even if I am still mourning the loss of all those wasted crisps.