By Josephine Pembroke
Take three women 60+ and put them back on stage after forty years and what do you get? Female empowerment for the menopausal women. My cabaret show is called The Working Girls of Soho – Saucy Tales of Notorious Women.
How did it happen? I was sitting next to Gyles Brandeth at dinner and I said I was toying with the idea of going back on stage and he said “But you must have a show Josephine, you can’t just get up and sing!” So aged 58 I looked back on my life and found my inspiration.
I lived and worked in Soho in the 80s and 90s, which is like saying to people you lived in Berlin in the 1930’s – people are fascinated. Being a podcaster on my own podcast Radio Gorgeous, I had developed my researching skills.
I spent a whole year researching the women in my show, at the British library, sourcing out-of-print biographies and on the internet, there are so many fascinating ladies of the night, club owners, burlesque dancers and female thieves I can talk about. I have had to leave quite a few out!
The cabaret show is storytelling, songs and dance. It is funny and entertaining. I was so excited when I discovered the thrilling Empress of Pleasure, an 18th Century pre-Mutton Club member whose name was Teresa Cornelys.
Teresa was Soho’s first ever private members club owner, she had so much against her (she was broke, she was a single parent and the wrong side of thirty seven) and she rose to be the socially most powerful woman in London. As a Venetian she knew how to put on a Masquerade, a masked ball where the elite would frolick, dance and drink.
Teresa designed her house (the largest mansion in Soho Square) with her exquisite taste, yellow chinese silk walls and Chippendale furniture. The top floor was row after row of bedrooms where you may go and have sex (keeping your mask on!).
I also talk about the most successful working girl in the 1950s. Her name was Marvellous May, who loved her life on the streets. She could ‘do’ up to 100 customers a day and I reveal how this was physically possible in the show. Very tragically she had a sad end, which was true of many of the women as they had no laws or rights to protect them.
My stories, interspersed with songs which reflect the stories lead up to the 1990s, when I was misbehaving myself with my nightclub act Pussies Galore (ironic name). The early 90s was the time of Wonderbras and Madonna’s Sex book. We were part of the Pussy Power Movement (pre Spice Girls and burlesque). Our name was taken from the James Bond film Goldfinger and I was Pussy, a dominating glamorous witty woman.
I took the James Bond score and found a dance music producer to help me ‘club up’ the sound. I rewrote some songs to some amazingly camp 70s music by John Barry. Our show was an instant smash and the journalists adored us.
We performed at The Cafe de Paris, Pascha and The Hacienda to name a few. We were often arrested when we arrived at venues, as they thought we were strippers! We supported Dodgy and Kylie Minogue.
So why am I back on stage? My marriage had broken down, my children have flown, I have always admired older female performers particularly Marlene Dietrich in her cabaret show.
I also do have a story to tell! I did not realise that after my first tentative concert above a pub in Hammersmith a couple of years ago, that I would end up taking the show to the Edinburgh Festival and attracting so much attention. I now have a producer who inspired me to get my Pussies back in the show, unfortunately they have both retired from the stage.
Lady Penelope is a Granny in Gozo an (island off Malta) and Pretty Pretty is having a low key life in Glasgow. So I have found new Pussies in the show. They are trained dancers and of course aged 60+. In the show they are showgirls, burlesque perfomers and Bond Girls.
My show was inspired by the independent, strong women who worked in Soho. Women come up to me after the show and say “You are all are so courageous,” I just say thank you, it is you, all women who get out there and take risks and and have faith in themselves. It’s you all that give us the inspiration to shake our booties now we are over 60.
“With her tales of Soho’s wild women, from 17th Century madams to Muriel Belcher and Henrietta Moraes (interspersed with her own stories of wild living in Soho in the 1980s). Josephine Pembroke’s one woman show featuring songs from Sondheim to Cy Coleman and Dorothy Field, blows the doors off”Liz Hoggard, Columnist and Arts Interviewer for The Observer, Telegraph, Times, Radio Times and Evening Standard.
“Captures the true spirit of Soho and the women who’ve been the beating heart of Soho since the 18th Century. Captivating and riveting”
Celia Dodd, Times and The IndependentRobert Bathurst, Cold Feet, Downtown Abbey
“Josephine’s show is nostalgic and sometimes mournful, but always defiant.”
Robert Bathurst, Cold Feet, Downtown Abbey
- The Working Girls of Soho – Saucy Tales of Notorious Women | Friday 24 March 2023 at 19:00 – 20:30 | The King’s Head Theatre, N1 1QN | https://kingsheadtheatre.com/whats-on/working-girls-of-soho
- The Working Girls of Soho – Saucy Tales of Notorious Women | Monday 15 May 2023 19:30 – 21:00 | The Phoenix Arts Club, London WC2H 8BU | https://phoenixartsclub.com/events/the-working-girls-of-soho-saucy-tales-of-notorious-women/
Website/Concerts/News : https://www.radiogorgeous
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Last Updated on March 16, 2023 by Editorial Staff