Director: Will Lucas
Choreographer: Jenny Legg, Aaron David Jenkins, Fletcher Dobinson and David Grewcock
Once a year a usually family-friendly West End theatre transforms into a saucy burlesque club as performers and choreographers unite to raise money for the Make a Difference Trust. This year even charity events have been stopped in their tracks by the latest lockdown restrictions and West End Bares: Turned On joins a plethora of other shows with an alternative online production available for a contribution of £5 from Vimeo.
Running for around 35-minutes and directed by Will Lucas, this 2021 edition splices together singers and dancers filmed in their own homes along with a handful of routines captured under Covid-safe conditions on stage and in dance studios. Together, six newly created sequences are brought to the screen to tease and tantalise as clothes and inhibitions disappear to earn your charity donation.
There is something of the telethon about West End Bares: Turned On divided into 10 segments as a series of famous names appeal for your help, while celebrating the 10th anniversary of West End Bares performances in the UK and 30 years on Broadway. Original founder, director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell explains the concept, comedian Tom Allen reminds us the performers are working for free, singer Michael Auger notes the charity has raised £400,000 in a decade while slowly losing his own clothes and Michelle Visage introduces an extended series of messages of support from creatives around the world.
There is also a lengthy montage section that looks back through 10 years of UK performances with excerpts from countless routines based on all kinds of topics from medieval damsels to Donald Trump. And while this is a primarily a charity event designed to maximise donations, these messages and memories overtake the performance time with six routines to cover.
What there is showcases the varied talents of the many West End performers contributing to at least one routine. Courtney Bowman, Sophie Evans, Nicholas Mclean and Zizi Strallen in unfeasibly sexy lingerie for this stage of the pandemic sing Keep Us Turned On from their glittery Zoom boxes as Bowman considers some alternative careers, while James Darch, Rhianne Alleyne, Chrissy Brooke, Gabrielle Cocca, Katie Dunsden, Yasmon Harrison and Lucie Horsfall do a suggestive routine called Discovery Channel with plenty of animal prints and strutting heels.
A fast-talking Amy Hart introduces a comedic Blind Date sketch from a real theatre in which a Jock, Geek and Emo compete for the Girl Next Door introduced by “Cilla”. Filmed in an 80s grainy style and using screencards in lieu of speech, it is a fun routine for Alex Bartles, Steph Archer, Luke Jarvis, Ashley Packer and Billy Warren. Later eight performers in their own kitchens perform a routine to I Can Cook with lots of apron play and various split-screen combinations to create variety,
It is difficult, however, not to draw comparison with the slightly more successful Theatre Channel whose four episodes to date have been inventive in using the music video format to retain a stronger thematic connection between the numbers than this edition of West End Bares: Turned On. Yet, reorientating any show for online performance is not easy and with so many international performers freely giving their time for a good cause the show should still raise plenty of donations.