“We just do what we want, we’re making it up. There are no rules, so why play by any?” an idea which performer Miss Polly Rae has put into an exciting and racy career as a Burlesque entertainer and The All New Hurly Burly Show in which she takes centre stage - an array of nipple tassels and sequins thrown in for good measure.
Sitting in Soho’s Balans restaurant, the Preston born 28 year old - dressed in a striking mix of leopard print, black and a beret, her alabaster skin and jet- black hair emphasized by crimson lips - enthusiastically recalls how she has always “loved singing and dancing” and though her life has a taken off in a “wild direction”, has always “dreamed of becoming a star”.
This “wild direction” has taken her from working as a beauty therapist in Selfridges, a makeup artist, a stint in a Bollywood dance troupe - during which she performed at weddings and Asian festivals - and then finally becoming one of Burlesque’s most prominent stars along with her very own dance troupe The Hurly Burly Girlies whilst heading her successful company Hurly Burly Productions.
Shunning the task of creating a stage name, Polly jokes how her mother, a Banking Advisor, and father, a model maker for several Gerry Anderson shows including Terrahawks and Ridley Scott’s Alien, must have known she was to be part of the Burlesque scene before she was born, choosing to give her a name that wouldn’t seem out of place in the glitz and glamour of the theatre. This - as well as singing live throughout her piece - is something which she believes “sets her apart from other performers in the business” making her more “unique”. The name for the troupe was similarly easy to come across. Taking inspiration from Burlesque troupe Burly Q, an obvious abbreviation of the word Burlesque, and then finding a word that rhymed, the “name just rolls off the tongue” and is one that Polly “can’t remember making up, but can’t imagining calling the troupe anything else”.
Polly came across the “art of Burlesque” in 2006 after seeing a poster for a course run by the legendary Jo King and the London Academy of Burlesque at Danceworks studios. Although the course would set her back 200 pounds and Polly had her doubts, “what on earth made me think that I could possibly become an entertainer” she recalls, after meeting with King who “totally blew” her away she decided that her “dream was to become a successful entertainer” and found the confidence to “actually do something about it”.
After completing the course Polly put together her own troupe of equally enthusiastic, hungry for success and talented performers, and landed a spot at The Soho Revue Bar. Although her first show, with a fresh troupe, none of which had ever done any form of Burlesque performance before, it soon became a “huge success” pulling in avid fans of the sultry art form as well as those looking to enjoy a contemporary, fun and saucy variety show. As the act grew in popularity it moved onto a spot at the Leicester Square Theatre where they now perform their latest “extravaganza”.
Inspired by icons Tempest Storm, Gypsy Rose Lee, Madonna and Beyonce along with shows The Moulin Rouge and The Crazy Horse in Paris, ‘Miss Polly Rae: The All New Hurly Burly Show’ is an outstanding mix of classic Burlesque and jaw-droppingly beautiful costumes merged together with contemporary pop songs, giving Burlesque a complete make-over whilst maintaining the essential components of tease, cheekiness and fun.
The stunning spectacle has been carved and created from Polly’s own vision and the expertise of her “creative soul mate”, celebrated stylist and West End director William Baker, critically acclaimed as Kylie Minogueʼs Creative Director, and for his work with Britney Spears, Leona Lewis, Bjork and Jamiroquai.
With Rae and Baker’s “dream team”, consisting of Tony Testa (who has worked with both Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga) with musical direction from Steve Anderson, choreography by Ashley Wallen (Sky One’s Pineapple Dance Studios) along with Terry Ronald and Nick Whitehous, Polly hopes she has achieved her vision of creating the “Cir De Soleil of Burlesque”, a show that is “iconic, unique and something that hasn’t been seen before in the UK or even the world.”
Whilst she has gained a great number of successes - appearing on both The Paul O’Grady and The Alan Titchmarsh show, being part of a touring performance team for Agent Provocateur in 2007, featuring in Kasabian’s ‘Where Did All the Love Go?’ music video as well as videos for The Holloways and Mickey Modelle ft. Jesse, Hurly Burly winning Best Troupe at the Ministry Of Burlesque awards in 2007 and becoming the face of computer game Battlestations Pacific in 2008 - Polly regards her latest endeavour as her proudest achievement of all. Her experience of “working with a team of such high calibre people who know exactly what I want and who have created my vision without me having to explain it” is the most “thrilling thing” and something that she is extremely proud to have produced.
Clearly still excited and “pinching” herself at the idea of working with a group of such respected and talented individuals, Polly agrees that she would be nowhere today without her troupe, who importantly “look completely different from one another” but all possess the qualities it takes to be a Hurly Burly Girly. This is most vitally the ability to show “your own personality and character” on stage to draw an audience in. Whether she is sexy, cheeky, coy, comedic or serious, Polly wants the audience to have their favourite girl. Another essential attribute is that all the girls are fantastic performers. However Polly is adamant that each girl must be full of energy and character in order to seduce, insinuate and tease like true Burlesque queens, “I don’t care how well you can pirouette across the room, if you haven’t got anything behind your eyes I’m not interested” she muses “and those six chicks all do it, I love them.”
With an audience which is mostly female Polly knows the importance her performance holds, “Burlesque is about female empowerment, about celebrating the female form and femininity”, with the sexiness and nudity that naturally comes with a show of this genre, it is so important for Polly that it remains “unthreatening and not intimidating” for women. “When women leave that theatre they need to feel good about themselves, and with the amount of humour and tongue-in-cheek that’s present in the show, I think we have managed to achieve that.”
For Polly, Burlesque is not merely a day job, but a lifestyle choice that she has stayed committed to since her first dabble six years ago. “It’s everything” she almost sings, “my career is my life” and although six years ago she was very much a high street girl, she is now a fully fledged 1940s darling, choosing to rummage through vintage and charity shops in order to accomplish the desired look. Previously “addicted” to sunbeds and fake tan, she has finally found a niche that her pale skin can fit into, “as I discovered Burlesque I discovered fashion…I’ll be a pin up girl forever.”
Whilst openly a “workaholic” Polly does enjoy the occasional night out, and when she hits the town can be found swing dancing her way through various jazz clubs in London, including Volupté (where she performed whilst first starting out in the business) and the Lady Luck Club ran by vinyl connoisseur and very good friend El Nino.
With her “mainstream and commercial” show which uses pop music from the likes of Michael Jackson and Britney Spears, Miss Polly Rae believes she is one of the “guilty culprits” that has made Burlesque come to the forefront of entertainment and culture in the last couple of years. She agrees that the art form is somewhat of a “fad” at the moment but doesn’t feel that this will in any way spoil its value. “When something goes above ground it does get saturated, but saturation only comes when the quality in something gets removed. If something’s good it’s good, and it will last forever”. Whilst she is aware that some may beg to differ, Polly is confident she has created what she set out to do. She has brought this seducing art to a wider audience; an audience that loves Burlesque, but also one that loves pop, theatre and art. “I wanted to create something that if the Burlesque Bubble bursts, will still be alive and kicking”, and with celebrity fans like Kylie Minogue and Boy George, rave reviews - the Telegraph praised the show and how “Miss Rae and her girls create an atmosphere of glamour, fun and celebration” - an appearance on Sky One’s Pineapple dance studios in the near future, and a committed following it seems she has done just that.