Thursday, September 13, 2007

An International Burlesque Star Stole My Lipliner

The dressing room at Volupte is a hotbed of glamour and intrigue.

Last Friday night was no exception, as a room-ful of semi-clad maidens jostled for position in front of the mirror and catalogued their various beauty woes.

"I can't find my nipple tassels!" shrieked Kitty Bang Bang, emptying the entire contents of her vanity case onto the dressing room floor. A fascinating array of satin lingerie tumbled out - but no nipple tassels. As you can imagine, embarking upon a burlesque striptease without that crucial final layer of concealment is unthinkable.

Luckily the combined maternal instincts and razor-sharp organisational skills of our Mother Superior of Burlesque, Gwendoline Lamour, came to the rescue, because naturally she had a spare set in her own bag kept at the ready for just such an emergency. They were silver ones, in the shape of snowflakes. Gwendoline warned Kitty that one corner was a bit wonky and needed extra glue to keep it stuck on. Kitty was limp with gratitude.

And very fine they looked too, if not entirely in-line with the playing card theme of her new 'Luck be a Lady' routine. But I didn't hear any of the appreciative punters in the audience commenting on the incongruity of snowflakes, so I think she got away with it.

As for me, I was moaning about the fact that my hair was all frizzy, and asking advice from my partners in glamour on what on earth to do about it. Kitty's suggestion - don't wash your hair on the day of a gig - was unfortunately too late to follow, but The Divine Miss Em bunged me some hair serum which helped no end.

Then it was Gwendoline's turn to put the distress call out, as she realised she couldn't find her red lipliner. Horror! No burlesque star goes on stage without red lipstick, least of all the star of the entire night. I lent her mine, and was rather pleased to be told it was the perfect colour. It was, however, sharpened with an inferior type of sharpener, which meant the point wasn't long enough. Luckily Gwendoline had a proper sharpener, and gave me back my own second rate one, before carefully sharpening my lip pencil with her more professional tool.

I used the lipliner myself right after Gwendoline had finished with it, and it did indeed seem easier to handle with a longer point. Now I come to think about it, I've had that old pencil sharpener since I was about sixteen, and it came free with a set of big fat pearlised eyeshadow pencils which have long since gone the way of all superannuated make up in my life. (They're stashed in a vanity case on my dressing table.) Note to self - next time I'm in Covent Garden I shall brave the supercilious sneers of the shop assistants in Charles Fox and go and pick up a proper pencil sharpener.

Last time I went into Charles Fox it was my maiden visit to this den of thespianry, and very intimidating it was too. I was buying some new make up ready for a 2-minute screentest I was shooting the next day with filmmaker Alex de Campi, and she'd told me she wanted me to look really pale skinned, for a very heightened, extreme look. However, the greasepaint that the assistant in Screen Face showed me was actually about two shades darker than my natural skin colour. I told her that I'd been instructed to get something pale, but she retorted:

"Oh no, you need to go much pinker for stage lighting. When I'm on stage myself, I always go for a foundation much darker and warmer than my natural skin tone, otherwise I look washed out."

I was still doubtful about this - I explained I was being filmed rather than appearing in the theatre, but Miss Make Up claimed this made no difference. When I reiterated that the director had explicitly asked me to go for a pale shade, and asked her about a greasepaint stick two shades lighter than the one she'd suggested, she got huffy with me:

"By all means get that one - if you want to look like a corpse."

She then walked off and refused to meet my eye for the duration of my time in the shop, so I had to get her colleague to help me find translucent powder, false eyelashes, a sponge and a powder-puff.

Gritting my teeth in the face of this opprobrium, I bought the "too-pale" shade I'd picked out anyway - and you can see for yourself whether it makes me look like a corpse by having a look at the film Alex shot of me:

Meanwhile, back in the Volupte dressing room the clock was ticking. (Not that there is actually a clock in there. It's on the list of things we always harp on about needing for that room every time we're getting ready, along with a second mirror for the other wall. Harping on about this has now become one of those reassuring Volupte rituals.) Showtime was almost upon us, so I chucked my lipliner back in my make up bag, picked up my skirts and skittered up the two flights of stairs to the restaurant.

Because I make use of a magical and quite possibly carcinogenic product known as Lipcote, I don't need to top up my lipstick at half time when I'm doing a show. Lipcote is a mysterious liquid that comes in a little bottle with an applicator brush and which you paint around the edges of your lips then across their entire surface area to permanently glue on your lipstick. It stings like a motherfucker (as a certain potty-mouthed Burlesque star would say), but so powerful is its effect that I regularly have to scrub my lips with my toothbrush to get the red lipstick off at the end of the night.

However, probably very wisely, none of my show-mates make use of this dubious substance, so, it occurs to me in retrospect that I was perhaps a little bit previous in assuming the work of my lipliner was done for the evening, and putting it away. When I came back to the dressing room after the first show I was mildly puzzled to see my make up bag lying open when I was sure I'd put it in my canvas holdall, but I packed it away again absentmindedly without thinking to check its contents.

And this despite Gwendoline's dire warning to me just a few weeks before, that she had a dangerous tendency to hoover up any make up that was left anywhere in her vicinity. That time, I had only just managed to rescue my greasepaint stick (yes the corpse-coloured one) and powder puff in the nick of time, before they disappeared forever into the black hole of her make up bag.

I have no evidence whatsoever for the outrageous accusation made in the title of this blog entry. But when I unzipped my make up bag to get ready for my show at CellarDoor on Sunday, there was no sign of my red lipliner anywhere.

Hazily the memory of that open make-up bag came back to me. Could it be that, needing a lip top up, and, naturally, needing to use the same shade as she'd put on before, Miss Lamour had fished out my lip pencil once more and then, in her haste to rush to the stage, absentmindedly left it in a pile with the rest of her make up paraphernalia, to be swept into the Black Hole when she packed up at the end of the night? If I hadn't tidied away my own make up bag into my holdall, she'd probably have noticed it sitting there, and remembered where the lipliner came from.

Of course my lipliner might actually be rattling around in the bottom of my canvas holdall, along with a multicoloured bag of straws (in case the venue don't have any, and I need one for my water, to avoid smudging my lipstick on the rim of the glass), and a pink paper fan (in case it's hot on stage - this item of my Emergency Kit hasn't been out of the bag all summer, incidentally). I should probably have checked before making such wild accusations.

But the fact remained that on Sunday night I was in a bit of a jam. No red lipliner, and no roomful of burlesque stars to tap for one either. Just me in my own bathroom at home.

What did I do? I pulled a faded cloth vanity case from the bottom of a pile of stuff on my dressing table and opened up Pandora's Box to reveal every discarded piece of make up I have ever possessed since the tender age of sixteen (my mum wouldn't let me wear make up before then. I'm not sure what dangerous effect she thought it might have on me, but whatever her fears were, I think it's fair to say I've surpassed them many times over by now.) Sure enough, in amongst the peach pearlised lipsticks and dried out mascara wands was a red lipliner of fine length, virtually unused. I gave it a quick sharpen with my vintage teenage sharpener, and we were good to go.

So everything was all right in the end. My new (old) lipliner does the job nicely, although a better pencil sharpener might help transform it into a truly professional tool. My original red lipliner may or may not be jetsetting its way around the world in the make up bag of an international burlesque star. I like to think of it being whipped out in dressing rooms in New York, LA, and Istanbul. Oh what tales it will soon be able to tell, if it could talk. (Although if it could talk, I doubt Gwendoline would let it live. And come to think of it, neither would I.)

Will I be asking Gwendoline for my lipliner back? Absolutely not.