Review: Dr Sketchy @ Royal Vauxhall Tavern


The burlesque life drawing phenomenon has taken place in 150 cities worldwide


By Katherine Cowdrey

Imagine your school art classes were held in the Moulin Rouge and your artistic talents were helped along by a glass or three of wine. That’s exactly how Dr Sketchy, the international burlesque life drawing phenomenon, has made its mark in 150 cities worldwide.

On stage at the intimate Royal Vauxhall Tavern, mother hen Ophelia Bitz – dressed as “Mae West’s vagina” she wisecracks, and ringleader of the curious circus about to unfold – encourages the audience to gird their loins and prepare for eyeball-bursting titillation.

In a rarely seen combination of performing arts, life drawing and comedy, burlesque models perform and entertain before reclining into provocative poses for us ‘art monkeys’ to sketch. The anti-art school was founded by art school dropout Molly Crabapple nearly 10 years ago in a dive bar in Brooklyn. A sumptuous success, Dr Sketchy London has since become the second largest branch outside of Melbourne, and hosts sell-out events every other month. 

Betsy Bon Bon of British burlesque troupe The Folly Mixtures explodes onto the stage dressed patriotically in red, white and blue, cheekily winking, hips waggling mischievously to Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. Removing her long white gloves, a shower of glitter bursts out, a little of which she ruffles into audience members’ hair.


The performance goes a little awry mid-striptease when it becomes evident the gyrating beauty is cinched into her corset so tightly she is genuinely struggling to get out of it. But the show must go on, and she manages to turn the potential crisis into a spontaneous moment of humour. When at last she can reveal her Union-Flag tassled assets, we find ourselves cheering her all the more, the climax seeing her pour a teapot over her body and leaving puddles all over the stage.

Far removed from the seriousness of high art circles, yet frequented by both arts students and professionals, gasps and murmurs of approval can be heard in appreciation of the art produced amongst the raucousness. The two-minute, then five- and 10-minute sittings fly by. It is a strange experience, particularly if you remember arts lessons from school, to have graphite, pen or pencil in one hand and a large glass of wine in the other. 

The second performance of the night is mute magic act Amelie Soleil, who impresses by swallowing razor blades unpacked from a small picnic basket to sinister staccato piano accompaniment. Beguiling and effortlessly glamorous in a ruffled blue fish-tail dress, bright eyed with fiery orange-dyed tresses, she is a joy to draw.


A copy of a very graphic graphic-novel by Dr Sketchy’s founder Molly Crabapple is up for grabs as the evening draws to a close. Prizes are thankfully awarded for enthusiasm rather than accuracy; and it is this freedom from judgement, and the hosts’ wicked sense of fun, that makes the event so liberating for artists and amateurs alike. 

Representing the very best of British burlesque, at this larger than life art class the message is clear: everyone is an artist and creativity simply needs unleashing.

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