REVIEW: Naked & Dangerous (Auckland Pride)

Review by Grace Hood-Edwards

“I don’t know what to expect, and that’s exciting” an audience member said as we were queuing up for the opening night of Naked & Dangerous, the latest venture from Luck and Schooney, a veteran artistic duo specialising in Dance Theatre and Cabaret. The show’s description is brief and enticingly general, promising a cabaret show that will explore sexual taboos and body positivity. 

As part of Pride and Summer at Q, the venue was bustling. As the audience waited for the show to start, people were dancing in their seats, drinks in hand, to bassy pop numbers (such as Whethan and Dua Lipa’s ‘High’) as a hum of excitement and expectation coursed through the room. This anticipation was only heightened by a stony-faced James Luck, one half of Luck and Schooney, seated alone on stage, bathed in red light. The pre-show mix moved from slow and grungy to punchy pop tracks, calling to mind the dimly lit corners of a dance floor.  I jotted down a note that I bet Kim Petras and Sam Smith’s synthy and sultry hit ‘Unholy’ would feature at some point. 

I was proven right in the first three seconds.  As the first resounding notes of the choir struck up, the cast hit the stage. White-shirted girls á la Risky Business (Ellyce Bisson, Zoe Kelly, Amanda Macfarlane, Colette Winks) filtered past and around the chair that held Luck, facing a black-clad Rebekkah Schoonbeek-Berridge (Schooney) striking a formidable ‘Madam’ figure. The dancers immediately began to ‘perform’ for Luck’s ‘Boss’, setting up a classic, heteronormative club scene fantasy. The scene gradually unfolded, evolving as two male dancers (Josh Morris, Kenzo Vuibert) entered, but similarly submitted themselves to Luck’s slothful eye. 

Forwardness of sexual thinking is not a part of Kiwi culture, and the audience was initially silent, uncertain of how to react – a few chuckles as Luck mimed snorting cocaine off one of the male dancer’s bodies. Most simply watched, a curious sense of engagement and unease palpable in the theatre as a highly gendered sexual power dynamic played out on stage. Flipping the power balance quickly, the dancers pulled Luck from his throne and began to strip him bare. Fulfilling the promise of the show’s title, the cast then took a naked Luck and used fire performance to set the top of his head on fire. 

After the fire, the audience began to warm, the uncertainty and occasional whoop transforming into big cheers by the end of the second number (The Pussycat Dolls’ ‘Buttons’). A jumpsuit-cladded Schoonbeek-Berridge led a playful BDSM-forward dance number, casting a knowing wink at the audience before imitating striking the blindfolded men with her riding crop. The audience laughed and cheered as an audience member was selected to receive the same playful treatment, whispered instructions resulting in amusing yoga-like cat-cow reactions to the riding crop. 

The show is surprisingly humourous. Cheeky is the best way to describe it, both literally and figuratively. Luck, Morris and Vuibert have the audience in stitches as they play with drag in overly-large yet ineffective ballgowns to Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah’. Simulated sex acts build until they are comically overblown, with one memorable set-piece revisited with a twist the audience went crazy for. After the initial discomfort fades, the audience cheer loudly, laugh and clap throughout the entire show. 

No matter the audience’s reaction, whether it be silence, shock or laughter, the acts on stage continue confidently in their audacity, beauty and grace. Naked and Dangerous, as a show that explores sex and desire and power, has an interesting commentary on voyeurism. Staging a cabaret show in an end-stage Rangatira at Q Theatre does something thought-provoking in lifting the form from the club/restaurant/casino context and placing it on a main stage. At first there is a slight disconnect, as the type of performance the audience witnesses feels almost out of place from the dark surrounds of a nightclub, where the performers can filter in and around the audience. Yet the staging demands you pay attention to the performers, and doesn’t allow for the usual distractions of a cabaret setting. They are the attraction, not the sideshow. You’re here for their act, we’re here for them. This delicate switch of power – who is watching whom, who is there for whom – is subtly toyed with throughout the show. A big contribution to this is the immensely clever lighting design by Zane Allen – at times revealing and highlighting, or hiding and obscuring – directing you where to look and exposing the audience when they may not want to be seen. It is a subtle cat and mouse game, of chases and glimpses, masterfully building a sense of atmosphere, a commentary on power and power structures, whilst still putting on a captivating and uproarious show.  

Whilst risqué the show is not uncomfortably explicit for the average audience member, and whilst you do experience nudity and danger, the show more explores the art and the tension that you can create from these two ‘hooks’.  For a show that proclaims it explores sexual taboo, it is surprisingly restrained, the directors of the show having a perfect command of the line they are walking.

The show is a delight from start to finish and it’s difficult to pick highlights. An ethereal veil dance to Beyonce’s ‘Sweet Dreams’ builds to a gasp inducing conclusion. Zoe Kelly impressed in an aerial pole-dance to Billie Eilish’s ‘Happier than Ever’, whilst Ellyce Bisson followed with a similarly incredible aerial hoop routine. These beautiful displays of athleticism wrought with the underlying tension of said aerial Circus acts were some of the most jaw-dropping moments of the show. With the various lip-synced dances, I started to hope for a vocal performance and was not disappointed by a vulnerable rendition of Adele’s ‘To Make You Feel My Love’ by Colette Winks. The performers create little vignettes, moments of fantasy, throughout the show, where the narratives play out strongest in their partnered acts – the most emotionally powerful being a lyrical dance between Luck and Vuibert, silhouetted onstage by flashlights. 

Naked & Dangerous is a celebration of the human body and bodily autonomy.  In a show about desire, it was meaningful to see all bodies – and particularly larger bodies – celebrated by the cast AND the audience. More. Please! The diversity of the show is presented without comment, creating a unique and joyfully validating experience for all orientations.

The show encompasses what good cabaret does – love, control, joy and desire. There is a clear knowledge and deep appreciation of the forms of cabaret, expressed by a talented and charismatic cast. The trust between the performers is evident onstage throughout the show and illuminates how fundamental an aspect that is to the BDSM elements the show plays with. As trite as it is to say – there’s something in it for everyone, if they’re open enough to attend. The show is funny, beautiful and exciting – a great night out with a killer soundtrack.

Naked & Dangerous plays Q Theatre Rangatira 22-25 February, 2023 as part of Auckland Pride.

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