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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Finucane & Smith’s The Exotic Lives of LoIa Montez, at Chapel Off Chapel - 80 minutes, with no interval

The colourful and controversial life of the dancer, actress, courtesan and rebel born Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert explodes onto the stage at Chapel Off Chapel.

 

Starting life in Ireland, she made a name for herself as “Spanish” and as the mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria.

 

She moved around extensively, including stints in India, Europe and the United States, and became a professional dancer, performing as Lola Montez.

She also travelled to Australia and entertained the miners during the Gold Rush of the 1850s.

 

Among her audacious exploits was escaping arrest when naked, save for some jewels, being showered with gold nuggets and performing the erotic Spider Dance.

 

She earned further notoriety when she had a ding dong battle with a Ballarat newspaper that published a bad review. She literally horsewhipped the editor.

 

All this and much more has been amped up and camped up in The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez, written by Jackie Smith and directed by Moira Finucane.

It reveals that Montez had a great sense of self and stood up for women’s rights.

 

She also stood for freedom, while recognising that it comes at a price, including attracting undesirables wanting and waiting to see you fail.

 

Playing Lola is noted actor and a descendant of the titular hero, Caroline Lee. There is pride and polish in her exhortations.

 

Alongside her are the Lolettes, burlesque performer Maple Rose, Iva Rosebud, a queer artist with flair, and operatic diva Piera Dennerstein.

They ensure everything is left on stage, relishing the attention.

 

The show is bold, brassy and humorous. It is presented as a dreamscape, which is indicative of embellishments for dramatic effect.

 

The artistes are big on engaging with the audience, on occasions moving up the central aisle of the theatre.

 

Rich anecdotes are interspersed with dancing, striptease (at a couple of points including total nudity) and musical interludes.

Costuming is a critical component of the offering – red and black gowns, lingerie and boas predominate, as does corsetry.

 

Audience seating is arranged cabaret style around a couple of small tables, with traditional tiered seating behind.

 

The centrepiece of the set is a wooden chest (suggestive of Lola’s travels), in front of a striking, red curtain with flourishes overhead.

 

Also above is a large, golden Lola Montez sign painted onto a black background.

Make no mistake, The Exotic Lives of LoIa Montez is a step off the deep end. It is edgy.

 

If you will, call it tall tales inspired by truth from the legendary past.

 

Clearly there is an audience for the bodacious, as there is an unmistakable energy in the room, as Lola et al are playful and provocative.

 

Lola Montez left her unmistakable mark wherever she went and so it is here.

 

Finucane & Smith’s The Exotic Lives of LoIa Montez is on at Chapel Off Chapel until 30th June, 2024.

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