Star Wars Burlesque – The Empire Strips Back

By Russall Beattie. The Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse

If you thought Star Wars was George Lucas’s imagination gone wild, Star Wars Burlesque takes the concept to a whole new level to create the best of both, strangely compatible, worlds.

Part Star Wars convention, part strip tease performance, this production gets a 10/10 for originality and timing – hurtling through Canberra on “May the Fourth” (International Star Wars Day) and fifth for sold-out shows (apparently there’s a large Star Wars contingent in the ACT).

Narrated by the loveable Drew Fairley (as Luke Skywalker lamenting his dysfunctional family and friendships), Star Wars burlesque strikes a perfect marketing compromise between the hard-core Star Wars fans and others just wishing for some risqué entertainment with a twist of funny.

Taking a low-key approach to the job, Fairley’s role as compere fittingly harked back to the time of good old vintage burlesque performance; when there was minimum stage management, tongues firmly in cheek and just a little bit of chaos thrown in the mix.

He quickly won over the hearts of the Star Wars devotees with some themed audience participation (i.e. the Wookie Woo-off), and obligatory Canberra jokes and managed to whip them into a frenzy of excitement, in anticipation of the impressive line-up of burlesque lovelies, yet to grace the stage.


With the strobe lighting and The White Stripes belting from the speakers literally stunning onlookers in their seats, the show kicked off with a primal Wookie-hunter number – complete with the scantily clad tribal women consisting of the evening’s stars: Tasia, Lillian Starr, Billy Bradshaw and Chelsea Nova of the Russall Beattie’s Jaded Vanities dance troupe, who embodied precision timing and a raw, but controlled sensuality.

What followed was a loosely connected sequence of vignettes, paying tribute to the infamous and obscure characters of The Empire Strikes Back with a wickedly eclectic soundtrack (featuring everyone from James Brown to the Prodigy), sumptuous costumes and total abandon – peppered with theatre sports to harness the excitable audience.

Nothing was refused a dose of the striptease treatment, with a particularly potent amount given to the Star Troopers, who managed to look both erotic and true to character at the same time. Surprisingly, however, one of the biggest crowd-pleasers was a fully clothed number, featuring an ode to the bromance between Hans Solo and Chewbacca that had people howling with laughter.

While much of the show was an intense and hilarious ride with plenty of voyeurism, parody and the occasional feat of physical strength, there were some moments among the slick pace that felt a little empty and devoid of wow-factor. The choreographic creativity was taken down just a notch too low, creating the very occasional lull that seemed rather misplaced in this otherwise energetic and visually rich stage landscape.

Overall, however, Star Wars Burlesque was an extravagant, fantastical melange of burlesque stylings performed exquisitely by the ladies, with enough daffy charm from the men, and the Canberra audience, to take the edge off.  This was good adult fun taking suggestive subtexts of the film and running a mile with them, and by the looks of it, just the scratch for Canberra’s itch.

Deborah Hawke