Page last updated at 15:29 GMT, Wednesday, 13 August 2008 16:29 UK

Famous tent keeps burlesque alive

By Pauline McLean
BBC Scotland arts correspondent


Performers in a modern burlesque show

For most of the year, George Square Gardens are just a welcome green patch in the midst of the University of Edinburgh.

But for the next three weeks, this space becomes the exotically named Spiegelgarden, home to a clutter of tents and tables and the Famous Spiegeltent itself.

The Spiegeltent is one of only a handful of the Belgian-made mirror tents left in the world.

In the 1920s, they would have been familiar sights around Europe.

"The beauty of the design is it doesn't need to be anchored," said David Bates, owner of this Spiegeltent since 2001.

"It's quite a unique structure and it only takes about 12 hours to put up."

Inside the tent, which as well as its ornate mirrors has carved booths and circular floor, a performer in a pin-striped suit and bowler hat balances precariously on the head of another besuited man.

These are The English Gentlemen, one of the many burlesque acts which make up La Clique, which was born in Edinburgh in 2004.

'Something different'

From David O'Mer, an acrobat from Berlin whose bathtub show owes much to the Nick Kamen Levi's ad, to Ursula Martinez and her filthy singalong - not to mention her "find the hanky" routine.

Somewhere between circus skills and cabaret, they soon found a natural home in the Spiegeltent.

"We had so many individual acts which we thought would be better together in one show," said Brett Haylock, Creative Producer of La Clique.

"We could never have anticipated the success of that tiny show - and it is still a tiny show - but it seems to have struck a chord with audiences.

"Perhaps they have had enough of reality television, perhaps they just want something different but from the moment they step inside this venue, they are transported somewhere else, somewhere really magical and it's just two hours of escapism."

The burlesque theme spills over to staff at the venue.

The women wear 1920s cloche hats and suits with fur collars, the men wear fedoras and sharp suits.

Scene from La Clique
The English gentlemen perform in La Clique
Even the audience can get in on the act - there's a vintage clothing stall on site.

But the star of the show remains the Famous Spiegeltent - famous, for it was in this version that Marlene Dietrich and other legends took to the stage.

Its new lease of life is made all the more extraordinary by the fact that few of the tents survived the end of the World War II.

"it was a mixture of falling out of fashion. Travelling shows became more modern, they wanted game machines not cabaret. And so many of them were stripped down and used for the war effort," said David Bates.

"I've been to bars in Belgium where you see little shards of mirrors on the wall, or perhaps a wooden booth and you realise that's the remnants of another Spiegeltent."

'Sound of bagpipes'

The Famous Spiegeltent has not only survived but a revival in interest in burlesque has ensured it has a healthy future.

When the team pack up here, they are off to Europe, Australia and the United States.

"We sometimes have to pinch ourselves to figure out where we are," said David Bates.

"If you can hear rain pounding on the roof and the sound of bagpipes outside, it's Edinburgh.

"If it's 40 degrees and there are gum trees outside, we know we're at the Adelaide Fringe. But inside it's just the same Spiegeltent."

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