Immodesty Blaize/Walter's Burlesque, Arts Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

What is the difference between a woman divesting herself of her clothes to music and a man doing the same? Even in a mixed-sex, mixed-sexuality audience, the gleeful whoops roused by a male stripper are in contrast to the odd, strained cat-calls that accompany the female of the species.

What is the difference between a woman divesting herself of her clothes to music and a man doing the same? Even in a mixed-sex, mixed-sexuality audience, the gleeful whoops roused by a male stripper are in contrast to the odd, strained cat-calls that accompany the female of the species.

Even so, burlesque is back. But is it a post-ironic, fashionable ritual that will pass as line-dancing did? Or is this some post-9/11 expression of you-only-live-once decadence?

All these questions are ignored in the vapid Immodesty Blaize and Walter's Burlesque. The show cocks (ahem) a snook at a time (it says here) of "computers and superstar DJs". A pity, then, that the one period detail it cries out for is missing: a band in the pit.

A live band (more than just lone pianist Rod Melvin) would have reduced the inevitable tawdry feel that pre-recorded music brings. It would also have spared us some clumsy mixes - Madonna's "Music" into "Puttin' on the Ritz", was as smooth as a unicycle with a square wheel.

For an example of how live music can energise such a night, head for The Flash Monkey's irregular nights at Madame Jo Jo's. Decadence - so much a part of The Flash Monkey - is replaced here by a knowing smugness, as is satire, the element, the programme assures us, that separates burlesque from stripping.

Ms Blaize - billed as a latter-day Ava Gardner but actually more Marilyn Monroe, with a frame that would be laughed out of Central Casting in these diet-obsessed times - flails a little in the large room (large for burlesque, tiny for theatre). But she fares better than Walter, whose routines are samey and eggy. All the performances are lost to the circle, and with so few acts on the mean bill we are left wanting less, not more, of each performer.

When the nipple tassels were swung in opposing directions, I was reminded of the scene in The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman deliberately embarrasses Katherine Ross by taking her to strip joint on their first date. If I wanted to give someone an unhappy night, I'd take them to this.

To 18 June (020-7836 3334)

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