The House of Burlesque with its host Joe Black marks a decade of decadence at The Kings Theatre, Southsea

Several times a year over the course of the past decade there has been a show which has introduced the people of Portsmouth to the weird and wonderful world of burlesque.

Thursday, 5th September 2019, 7:00 am
Joe Black has been running The House of Burlesque at The Kings Theatre, Southsea for 10 years. Picture: Greg Bailey.

And its incomparable host Joe Black has been there at The Kings Theatre since the start – brought in to help put the first ever show together in August 2009.

‘I came in with a month and a half until the first one,’ Joe recalls. ‘I’d never produced an event before, they were like: “You know these people, can you make it work?” It was quite frightening, really.’

When the rest of the original team subsequently dropped out, Joe was offered the chance to pick up the reins – which he eagerly accepted.

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Joe, who is from Portsmouth but now lives in Brighton is a leading figure in the world of dark cabaret. He recently bought his Decopunk show to his hometown after a successful run at the Brighton Fringe.

Looking back, he says: ‘It’s a long time to be bringing burlesque and variety to one place.

‘When we started it 10 years ago, the UK was having it’s burlesque revival and it was starting to pop up in the back rooms of pubs everywhere, and we were one of the first to put it on in a big theatre.

‘Now, most towns, if they’ve got a regional theatre, they’ll have a touring burlesque show, but at the time we were quite unique.’

It was through the network of like-minded performers that Joe was able to find acts for the show.

‘I wasn’t going in cold, it was people I had worked with or had seen, or had booked me for their own events. 

‘A lot of the producers were the performers, which is still mostly the case now. People make their own opportunities and their own events.’  And he is of course proud of being able to stage it in the stunning environs of The Kings.

‘I feel really lucky being able to give performers that stage – I love walking them on to that stage for the first time, and they always go: “Oh wow!" They’re always so excited.

‘I spend the whole day there when I do House of Burlesque, just pottering around and it feels like home. It feels right.

‘It’s been a journey, and I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. Obviously some shows have been better than others, you’re never going to hit the same mark every time. There were some that made me go: “Yes, yes!” 

Being a producer isn’t my natural thing, but I guess with my experience on stage, I know what I want to bring, and I also have the audience in mind at all times.

‘As a creative it's exciting to put together the shows.’

Over the years, Joe has been able to snag a few acts who have gone to great things.

‘We’ve had people like Tape Face, who’s now an international superstar, but that’s the benefit of working on the scene and being friends with them. We haven’t really got the kind of budget to get someone like that, but luckily from working with people and knowing them, sometimes we can get them.

‘But it can’t happen all the time, you can only pull so many favours to make things happen! Piff the Magic Dragon, Barry and Stuart – they were one my favourites ones because I was such a fan of their show, I love magic!

‘There’s still people I’d love to have, but we only have so many shows a year.’

There’s also been one or two demanding divas whose egos outshone their talent.

And of course there have been the ones who got away.

‘We’ve tried to get some really big acts for House of Burlesque that never worked out – we very nearly got Tim Minchin a few years ago, just before he got really big.

‘The problem with a lot of these big acts is that their management won’t let them do burlesque.

‘We tried to get Victoria Wood, I mean rest in peace, but we could never have afforded it! 

‘And Dita Von Teese – that was the lengthiest list of requirements I’ve been sent. Obviously she’s the most famous burlesque performer who’s ever lived, but tickets would have needed to have been about £200 each to justify it.

‘Then I get these little fantasies about who we could have – like Liza Minnelli or Bette Midler, because what I think would happen, in some alternative dimension that this actually happens, people would think it’s drag queens pretending to be them. They wouldn’t believe it. They would just think it’s a really good Liza Minnelli impersonator: “It’s not going to be her, she’s never going to be here!” 

‘Alan Cumming would be amazing as well –  he was in the original revival of Cabaret, and he did his own cabaret show at the Edinburgh Fringe, he loves the art form.’

The next show will feature: 

Vicky Butterfly – British burlesque legend. Anachronistic elegance and grace! Didi Derriere – Award winning burlesque bombshell! Felicity Furore – Playful yet dangerous! Glamorous yet scandalous! Poppycock – All-singing, all-dancing drag diva powerhouse! Chi Chi Revolver – Guinness World Record holding hula hooping extraordinaire! Arran Shurvington – Creepy creature impersonator and nonsensical nosferatu glamour ghoul


The Kings Theatre, Southsea

Saturday, September 14