Any show starting past 10pm comes with an unwritten warning: may contain scenes of an adult nature. Theatre's post-watershed playground of the moment is the London Wonderground- a riverside funfair of sequins and feathers showcasing the capital's best wonders and curiosities; a throwback to a world where the ringmaster ruled and showgirls shimmied round red and gold lusciously adorned tents.
Where better, then, for Coney Island's golden couple, Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz to visit this Summer? These darlings of burlesque peddle a brand of cabaret that couldn't function outside of an 18 rating: married earlier this year in an outlandish ceremony held by the Mayor of Coney Island, their natural closeness lends an almost rudely familiar intimacy to proceedings- the audience are, in more ways than just the obvious, real emotional and sexual voyeurs when watching the 'Freak and the Showgirl'.
Boasting accolades many and varied between them- she was Miss Exotic World, he played drums behind Coldplay at the Paralympic Closing Ceremony to name but two of their diverse achievements- their current show, Apocastrip Wow!, has very little to do with the end of the world until the very last minute- the title is, in fact, a complete misnomer. Instead, the best part of the content takes on a vaguely political stance, as the two performers challenge the roles of 'the freak' and 'the showgirl' in theatre through time. Fraser was born with phocomelia of both arms, as a result of many women at the time being prescribed thalidomide for morning sickness: 'at least it cured the morning sickness', he jokes, causing a British, utterly stiffer upper-lipped audience to titter with a strange mixture of unease and relief.
It's a stunning expose on the human attitude to disability, and credit to Mat Fraser's attitude to life that he is the one willing to stand on stage in sparkly hot-pants (actually, most of the time no pants at all) and challenge our preconceptions. Muz, too, challenges the stereotype of the cabaret showgirl- one which is certainly more rife in London than New York- by stripping (sometimes literally) the nice-girl, 50s housewife image from the burlesque scene, instead performing the kind of acts that nice girls (or even bad girls) in the 50s would balk at. And my, does she do it well- a veritable firecracker on the stage, Muz stalks, stomps and thrusts about in a positive tour de force of self-assured sexuality.
The real stars of the show, however, were Mat Fraser's vocal chords. A silky belter of a voice crooned through big numbers- 'Born Free' was a favourite- yet these moments of astoundingly luxuriant vocal acrobatics sometimes seemed at odds with the smutty, silly aspects of Apocastrip Wow!.
One did feel, at times, like a goose being brutally prepared for cabaret foie gras- we were rammed so full of ribaldry, shock, social politics and singing labia (dressed as Bob Marley, no less), I felt a little distended with smutty revelations. But, I can't say they didn't warn me- the 10.30 start, the claims of being '50 shades sexier than 50 Shades of Grey', the inflammatory press pictures- what did I expect?!
Apocastrip Wow! is a real marmite show- it brings the phrase 'come on then if you think you're hard enough' to mind. Yet, it is rare to find a piece of theatre that truly challenges you in such a brazen manner... Muz and Fraser are like a sexy Tarantino in a pile of sentimental Spielbergs. They're not kidding when they say you've never seen anything like it- and for that, I'll take my hat off to them. Even if it's the only thing I've got on.