A Rosey view of Soho nightlife
Five years after Madame Jojo’s closed its doors for the last time, British burlesque legend Tempest Rose, who compèred shows at the iconic club, says central London is 'in danger of becoming dull'
28 January, 2019 — By The Xtra Diary
Tempest Rose: ‘Burlesque is a parody of femininity’. Photos: Amy Astor-Lewis
IT was a dark day for Soho’s multicoloured, many-faceted, joyful night owl scene when Madame Jojo’s, that den of creative mayhem in Brewer Street, closed its doors for the last time.
It was 2014, and Westminster Council revoked the licence after a violent dispute on the street outside – though many felt it was more to do with the increasing push to gentrify the area, and showed a complete lack of respect for one of the best clubs on the block.
Five years later, Tempest Rose, who compèred shows at the legendary club, and hosted a burlesque revue there, recalls the marvellous times had by so many – and told Diary about what she and many others have done since the last glass of fizz was sloshed into a flute, and the stage lights dimmed.
Tempest is a legend on the British burlesque scene, a performer, choreographer and compère. She also runs the biggest burlesque show in the country, The House of Burlesque, and heads up an academy that teaches the form.
“There was a real sense of loss across Soho,” she recalls.
“It was heartbreaking. It brought so many different styles of entertainment together under one roof. There were magic nights next to break-dance competitions, rockabilly gigs and burlesque and drag shows, metal music nights and much more besides.
“The owner really invested in the shows. They made deals that were favourable to performers so the arts could flourish.”
Now performers looking to entertain in central London and beyond face problems.
“It is hard to find the right venues now,” she adds.
The support of club owners is often not as forthcoming as before, with many shows expected to run at a loss.
“This is not always their fault, but because the rents are just so high,” she says.
“But it does mean London is in danger of becoming dull.”
Now walking through Soho she feels keenly the changes of gentrification – and questions the idea that “cleaning up” the area, moving from its reputation as a place of seediness and vice, has made it feel any safer.
“The idea of making Soho ‘safer’ doesn’t ring true,” she says.
“If anything, it feels less safe today than it did when I was leaving work at 3am. So many clubs have closed – you used to have door staff and workers everywhere, people who knew each other. Now it feels a bit at times like a corporate wasteland.”
But while Soho faces pressures, Tempest’s House of Burlesque goes from strength to strength at its current home at Sway, a club in Covent Garden with a Speakaeasy vibe.
Tempest hosts shows, runs courses and is a mine of information about its history, performers and famous acts.
Burlesque has its roots firmly in London’s performing arts culture, starting in the music halls in the 1800s, she says – and this translates well to what is on stage today.
“It was a way for people to hold up a mirror to society’s perception of what women should be,” she says.
“It is a parody of femininity, and it is also political and satirical too.”
Today, the House of Burlesque can use contemporary music, remixes of classics and has a modern slant, with performers designing shows about contemporary issues – a recent show included pieces about the tampon tax, body ownership, propaganda and fake news.
“It is about reclaiming female sexuality from the male gaze,” adds Tempest. “We look to parody stereotypes.”
Each year, the House of Burlesque runs the nationwide competition Burlesque Idol – and last year’s runner-up did a show based on Theresa May.
“She did a piece about running through fields of wheat, about being strong and stable,” says Tempest. “It was great.”
So while Jojo’s is still mourned by many, the acts it helped foster and flourish are still out there, making the centre of the capital anything but dull.