Saturday, July 06, 2013

Tied Up by Jessamae St James, Review

Tied Up | Jessamae St James

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Cabaret is cabaret – life experiences told through song and spoken word – but each show has its own schtick. Tied Up's schtick, as you've probably guessed, is sexual fetish.

Clad in heels, stockings, corset and ropes, Jessamae St James makes her entrance with a Tori Amos song (Leather) unless I am mistaken. She doesn't care about the weather, she just wants her leather. It's a smouldering entrance and the audience is immediately struck by our star's commanding presence and that powerful, pitch perfect voice. And she looks stunning, like a slightly darker version of Cabaret's Liza Minelli.

It was hard to tell, at this stage, which way the show would go. Was it going to use fetish as titillation? (Judging by the very mixed crowd I'm sure some audience members hoped so). Or were we in for something a little darker?

At the conclusion of the intro song, Mistress Jessamae decided her seat had not been prepared and dragged an obliging male onto the stage, commanded him to get on all fours, she sat on him and, and it seemed it was going to be a show of titillation and giggles.

Not so, as it transpired. A quick audience quiz about what we think about when we hear the word 'fetish', and bondage was the general consensus. BDSM, and indeed these are common fetishes, or commonly recognised ones. St James walked us through some stories of BDSM, but what followed were some lesser known but well-documented forms of sexual fetish.

St James tells us stories of suffocation; the fetish of dolls; of being aroused at the idea of one's partner being with someone else; the need for a partner to cry to be aroused... the list goes on.

St James inhabits these stories convincingly so that you don't doubt these are all very real fetishes and she has done her homework. So engaging is she as a story teller that I think she could have thrown a few made-up fetishes in there and you'd believe every word she said. Who knows? Maybe she did just that. I doubt it though, having just done some of my own homework about fetishes. It's a big, wide, weird world behind closed doors.

As St James struts up the aisle and makes eye contact, sizes you up and down, oozing superiority, you can't help but squirm as you think of the chair-guy at the beginning. Is she going to drag me up on stage and make me do humiliating things? You quickly realise that maybe you've made the rookie mistake of sitting in an aisle seat. So does she drag hapless males onto the stage? Not telling.

The four piece jazz band works perfectly to create varying moods, from the melancholic to menacing to the uplifting with the Weimar sounding section towards the end – although here the band totally drowned out the vocals in parts.

The music never worked better than when St James dragged out her harmonium and played the darkest song of the show. This was perhaps the show's titular song, a song about being tied up and neglected, and it was slow, haunting, disturbingly real, lush and beautiful. It was, for this dark soul, the highlight of the show. The piece Pussy Got Your Tongue? was a close second with its manic anger. Loved it.

Some humour would have been welcome, and after chair-guy it was, I think, expected. But overall there were very few laughs, with St James playing it straight, so to speak. And that was fine; the focus was on her stunning voice and the subject matter.

Jessame St James is the alter-ego of singer Jessie Upton. Jessamae has been around for less than a year, but with her smouldering confidence she has already made a herself right at home in the cabaret and burlesque scenes. I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more of her.

July 6th & July 7th at The Butterfly Club, Melbourne

 Edit: I actually had no idea the opening number was by Tori Amos. Thanks to Lola Lopez for the heads up.

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