This post was originally written for Torture Garden and posted on their blog. Torture Garden is the world’s largest Fetish and Body Art Club with global events attracting open-minded individuals of all sexual orientations and genders.
By Holly Field.
You’re hovering over the “Book Now” button thinking, “Should I? Shouldn’t I?” Yes, you should. Then you’re wondering whether to opt for the Friday or the Saturday night (it depends on whether you want more of a cabaret vibe – go on the Friday – or a full fetish night – pick Saturday). Next, you’ve bought the tickets and are wondering what to expect on the night. Fortunately, I attended the re-launch of The Pearl Necklace on 21st May and wow, what a night. Let me share that night with you.
It’s my first time at The Pearl Necklace and my expectations are high. With a somewhat apprehensive sister in tow, I’m praying the night will deliver while not scaring away my vanilla sibling…
“Do I have to dress up?” asks my sister over text.
“Yes, you do,” I reply and then send her a photo of me in my latex outfit. (I oddly reason that if she’s put off by her older sister in latex she won’t fancy Torture Garden…)
Walking through our hotel foyer, I can tell she feels a bit awkward but hopping out the cab to the entrance of Electrowerkz my sister fits right in. (She asks Yasmin TG on the door if people really get turned away because of their outfits. You betcha.)
Dressed to impress, TG rewards us with a night we’ll never forget. As can often be the case in London, an unassuming door leads to an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. Three rooms embody the sexy, edgy world of Torture Garden and performers mill around the venue, welcoming guests and providing a bit of early entertainment. (Doors open at 7 PM and you’ll want to get to the venue well before 8 PM to settle in, have your welcome drink and peruse the menu. When the scantily-clad audience and beguiling performers fill the room, you won’t give a damn whether to pick arancini or soup, pork belly or a burger, or whether you have chips or Caprese salad – the real feast is on the stage.)
Making our way to our table, we see kinky revellers of all (adult) ages, sexualities and gender expressions sport fabulous outfits we can’t help but look at. And, of course, that’s the point. There are men dressed as women, women dressed as men, heels so high you’d think they’d be impossible to walk in, fishnets, stockings and suspenders, corsets of all materials… There are wigs of all colours (someone’s fashioned a wig made of glow-sticks) and an array of masks – not the Covid-kind! It seems anything goes. “We get a variety of full fetish/quite nude looks and some more cabaret-style outfits on the Friday, but none look out of place. As long as you are comfortable to sit and eat in the outfit, it will be fine!” says TG Boss Charlotte Hellicar. This evening, the place is swimming in shiny latex though I later find out this isn’t always the case on Fridays. (“Everyone has been in lockdown; it was the first event back”, so there were “a lot more fetish people than sometimes there are on the cabaret dress code nights,” Alternative Cabaret Performer Cynth Icorn tells me.)
You might be curious about why tickets for Rooms One and Two cost more than Room Three. Because these rooms have main stages whereas Room Three is in the courtyard, but that isn’t to say you should be disappointed if there are only tickets left for Room Three! In the centre of the spacious courtyard is a platform for performances and you can still see Room Two’s stage from your seats thanks to the interior windows.
In the courtyard on Friday night (this is beginning to sound a little like Cluedo), “Femme Fatale” Charlie Bouquett titillates the diners in bejewelled nude lingerie, Skinny Red Head stuns the room with her Shibari aerial act against the sounds of experimental Russian electronica and performer Danny Ash struts around to “Candy Man” after spinning with suspended ropes. (This evening I have every intention to move around the Electrowerkz scoping out the shows in different rooms but do I? No, because I’m utterly transfixed by the performances in Room Two – and I can’t leave my sister alone, can I?!)
Lolo Brow, Lilly SnatchDragon, Sister Glory Hole (Rosy Pendlebaby) and Danny Ash
Exuding equal parts sex-appeal and vulgarity, “reptilian Drag Queen” Lolo Brow is the slinky thread that coils Room Two’s acts together. In her leopard-print leotard, suspenders and thigh-high white boots, Brow’s words hiss and spit venom at the crowd, whilst simultaneously mesmerising us like Jungle Book’s Kaa.
In a way that fits Torture Garden’s fascination with the extreme, the show flirts with the boundary between creepy and sexy, lulling us into the security of one emotion before jerking us into the realities of the next. To the sexy husky rock vocals of Marianna Faithfull, Bouquett performs a deliciously seductive striptease before the enigmatic Brow takes to the stage against the musical backdrop of pop-rock artist Miyavi. We quickly learn The Pearl Necklace will not seduce us dotingly: Brow stubs a cigarette out in her mouth, deep-throats a hammer and drills a power drill up her nose.
Watching Andromeda Circus bend his body around the pole leaves us bewildered but also terribly impressed. (And thinking we need to work on our flexibility.) Then, with a show that could make milk turn sour, Icorn tells the story of the scorned “Baby Girl playing with magic”. Dancing to the empowered break-up song “Guys My Age” by Hey Violet, she takes the stage, disrobing to uncover a homemade latex milk costume. Before long, the music shifts into Rasputina’s “Gingerbread Coffin” as this baby girl enacts a ritual in a bid to “invoke a new daddy”. For this performance, Icorn later tells me TG asked her to create a show “based on the milk act” from the Valentine’s Ball, wanting something a bit darker to offset the other shows booked for this evening. And it’s this expertly trodden line of oddness confronting sexy, lightness against darkness and cute within scary that makes The Pearl Necklace utterly unforgettable and utterly unique.
As we hurtle towards the end of the evening, Sister Glory Hole (Revolting Rosy) gives the audience a spanking and Lilly SnatchDragon makes Ewoks appear sexy. By 11 PM, we have the final act: Danny Ash. Undoubtedly the sexiest policeman I’ve ever seen, this “boylesque” performer transports us back to the 80s with Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax”. In black heeled boots and high-waisted pants (that give mine a run for their money), Ash struts across the stage before stripping off and doing some NSFW things with his truncheon and an empty wine bottle. Can you imagine finishing off your dinner, sitting across from your sister and seeing a man in leather chaps insert a truncheon into his anus? No, you cannot. At yet, somehow, Torture Garden’s event was so perfectly curated that nothing felt out of place in this evocative, alternative world. Icorn echoes what I’m thinking: “One of the things that make Torture Garden stand out from other venues” is that “they curate their shows so wonderfully and they find the best performers.”
Cynth Icorn and Andromeda Circus
Of course, a night this well-choreographed isn’t possible without one hell of a lot of backstage prep; as stage manager Matt Skully puts it: “I really enjoy the rushing around and excitement of being backstage; you’ll be helping a performer bring down props while someone is stretching, a performer is still doing [their] makeup and someone else is putting on a sparkling corset. For me, this is what I love about performance work; the comradery of being backstage and the behind-the-curtain experience… Spending some time with the performers and understanding their needs and their acts means things go correctly and everyone has a better time.”
Before we know it, the show’s over. The aura of disturbing sex appeal at The Pearl Necklace is such that I almost tell my sister I’ll stay and meet her back at the hotel before remembering my sister came to a fetish show for me…
It’s hard to tell, but I hazard a guess that I’m the only one who’s brought a family member to the event. Weird? Perhaps, but at TG sexy weirdness is welcome – just make sure your party is enthusiastic, kind and joins in. And whilst it’s the show that makes The Pearl Necklace a night to remember, it’s the audience that elicits the feeling of unadulterated joy. When you’re surrounded by people expressing themselves and being accepted in all their idiosyncrasies, Torture Garden feels like home.
So, to adapt Orwell’s famous quote, I look forward to the next time when we shall meet in the place where there is darkness…
All photos my own.