I work for ... Gerard Simi
Wednesday 06 May 1998
When I first met Gerard he was slightly intimidating. While being polite and friendly, he remains reserved; he won't give too much away until he trusts you. But we developed a friendship over time. I came to parties held here, and then Gerard asked me if I would help him out at the theatre. Five years later, I am still here. I've always worked in the theatre; once you fall into it it's hard to fall out again, and I know that I could never do a nine-to-five job now.
This is a respectable West End theatre, run like any other theatre with a large staff. It just happens that the performers are naked. I had been to the Moulin Rouge, the Lido and the Crazy Horse in Paris, but even they didn't prepare me for the Raymond Revue Bar show. I knew that this show wasn't seedy, unlike some of the strip joints nearby which cater for the white mac clientele; there's a huge difference between a revue and an in-your-face strip act. But I still wasn't expecting anything on this scale, including 12 female and three male dancers, and huge props and elaborate special effects.
We have a mixed audience, many of whom are tourists, including whole families. There's a very different attitude on the Continent towards this type of show. The British seem to have rather an immature approach towards nudity, rather like schoolboys having a peek at something rude. It's almost as if they are frightened to admit that they are sexual people. I feel that we are trying to educate people to see that there is something in between porn and non-porn. If you find the body attractive, why deny it? Gerard calls the show a celebration of the body and he bases much of the show on ballet, which traditionally leaves nothing to the imagination bodywise; apparently ballet was originally supposed to be performed nude.
At first I felt quite uncomfortable having constantly to justify what I was doing. A lot of people think that Gerard has just choreographed striptease, whereas he's in fact a true and talented professional with a background in classical ballet. When he was younger he danced with many of the stars of the time, and his first role here was as an exotic dancer. He won't tolerate unprofessionalism from any of his staff, and will be quite formidable if they don't respect this. Dancers use me as a sounding- board before they approach Gerard with a request for time off or a suggestion for a change to their act, but I usually dissuade them from trying to alter the show because Gerard is very particular about his choreography.
Some of the dancers are married or have families; others are students working through their degrees; some are trained; others have never performed before; but none of them are at all as you might imagine striptease artists to be - in fact they are quite the opposite of their stage personae. They are all very assertive people; they don't beat about the bush when telling you what they want. It becomes second nature to see them walking about backstage naked; as in any other job, you quickly accept the environment. All the men who work here do so because they are professional theatre people, not because they are looking for a cheap thrill.
We recently began a ladies' night on Saturdays, and girls ring in to ask whether our show is better than The Full Monty. We are licensed for male nudity, and that's what the girls want. There's a very different atmosphere between male and female punters; the men tend to be quite serious about the show, whereas women are in party mood. I'm sorry to say that some of them can behave like absolute animals. It can be terrifying, but it's my job to deal with it.
Yet when the women realise how artistic and beautiful the bodies and the dances are they often fall silent, because it's a long way from the baby oil and G-strings they have come to expect.
It has been a real eye-opener to discover what running a theatre involves. Not having had a great deal of experience in the administration side, I just picked it up as I went along, relying on others' help when needed. The licensing is the most complicated aspect to my job, for although we remain well within the boundaries of decency there's a lot to know about what's needed to keep Westminster Council happy.
I usually begin my working day at home doing the bookkeeping, the accounting, the banking and the correspondence - Gerard is a good writer, but I need to translate his letters from pidgin English into something more legible. I'm doing the work of two or three people which means I work hard, sometimes from midday to midnight. But I'm very proud of the theatre; last Sunday I spent four hours polishing the chandeliers, because I wanted to see them looking their best.
Since Gerard took over the place and encouraged the staff to become less formal, it has become a lot more lively here. It may be a cliche to say that our theatre has a family atmosphere, but it's true. This is our 40th anniversary year and we invited local businesses to see the show and celebrate with us. It was like a dream come true to hear them say how different it was to anything else they had ever seen. Some say that the Revue is stuck in the Seventies, but I ask them whether that is such a bad thing.
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