Imogen Kelly delights and moves the audience in La Grande Folie

Reading Time: 5 minutes

It’s not often you find yourself laughing and cheering someone on one minute and then in complete silence, moved with tears streaming down your face the next but that’s exactly what Imogen Kelly delivered with La Grande Folie in its international premiere at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival last night.

La Grande Folie - Imogen Kelly

For those unaware, Imogen Kelly is an Australian who not only won the title of Australia’s Queen of Burlesque but went on to win World Queen of Burlesque in Las Vegas with her entry into the Burlesque Hall of Fame in 2012. She has been doing burlesque for over 30 years, starting long before it was cool again.


The premise of La Grande Folie is all of Imogen Kelly’s best acts, including those that she performed at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, tied together with the stories behind them all in one show for the first time. A throughline ties the show together which is the idea that perhaps stripping can save the world.  Stripping is her super power and maybe with it she can save the world.


Before the show commences, a voice warns that the show will be lewd, crude and contain adult themes like [cue gasp] nudity! After announcements are made with the lights down and the curtains closed, the curtains rise and the lights come up to Imogen Kelly dangling from a chandelier. Matching the chandelier with her long gold crystal tasselled dress, she is suspended in air and performs some impressive aerial feats – after all this is no simple burlesque stripping routine. Shirley Bassey’s Diamonds are forever is the perfect soundtrack to such a sparkling opening act.

Imogen Kelly La Grande Folie
Photo: Claudio Raschella

Imogen Kelly is accompanied on stage by two women in maids outfits, one, Memphis, constantly chewing gum, the other, Bunny Lambada, in a face mask for the first part of the show. Kelly playfully counts how many times the average person gets undressed in a day (she estimates 3), times that by days of the year and average life expectancy and says that in contrast she believes 999,999 people have seen her in a state of undress or just in a state. This show will take to 1,000,000 which she proclaims she will celebrate by showing us her “pussy”. That leads to a discussion of all the names for the women’s anatomy including some of the most unattractive “meat wallet” and “husband hole”.


Bunny Lambada reveals herself as the bearded lady in an amusing act where she adds the word beard to lyrics of Beyonce’s All the single ladies and Kylie’s Can’t get you out of my head.


Between performing acts, Imogen sits on the chaise lounge and tells us the stories that led to their making. From her days as a stripper in Kings Cross when strippers were considered sex workers and could be charged with solicitation (She’s been told that strippers could cause “the downfall of men”. Who knew stripping could be so powerful!?) and the momentous changes through her work with the AIDS council and the Wood Royal Commission through to pregnancy, deciding to retire, coming out of retirement, her struggles with cancer and finally her piece about climate change.


The famous Marie Antoinette “Let them eat cake” act sees Imogen Kelly corseted and with a ridiculously high headdress strip down to just her g-string and pasties before doing the splits onto a cream cake and writhing around in it at the front of the stage, perhaps dangerously close to the front row of the audience. I’d seen it on YouTube but seeing it in person is so much better!

Imogen Kelly - La Grande Folie
Photo: Claudio Raschella

The flamingo costume is incredible as is the act that accompanies it. This act, the one that Imogen Kelly wrote while pregnant, sees puppetry, fan dance and more. Again, Imogen Kelly is no one trick pony. She was the first, and remains the only Australian winner of the World Queen of Burlesque title. This act was the one she performed the night she was given entry to the Burlesque Hall of Fame.


Talking about her cancer struggles and the ages at which she lost her Mum (38), her Aunt (42) and at which her grandma was diagnosed with it (55) brings home just how familiar Imogen Kelly’s cancer struggle was for her and to her family. She asks the audience to have a moment of silence for all the people from all of the stories she has told who did not survive.


The act that Imogen Kelly performed in Las Vegas after her cancer diagnosis and with 1/3 of her breast removed had the audience in complete silence and awe. Her most watched burlesque clip actually features very little stripping at all. Instead, it is a beautiful slow dance in a long flowing, extreme A line dress with a hoop like appearance that enables her to twirl and contort the dress as a prop. I felt tears start to stream down my face watching this act.


And they didn’t stop coming. Imogen tells us that the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and Tina Arena (this year’s Artistic Director of the festival) have specifically asked her to go overtime and perform part of her Great Barrier Reef act. The melody of The Smashing Pumpkins’ Porcelina of the Vast Oceans accentuated the beauty of the performance. It is a tribute to the colours and creatures of the Great Barrier Reef. In it, Imogen removes beautiful layer after beautiful layer to reveal more and more creatures.


Imogen Kelly’s La Grande Folie is a must-see show, which contains so much more than the usual burlesque show. After all, who thought you’d end up being moved to tears by a burlesque performer?


Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival


Unfortunately, Imogen Kelly was only performing once at Adelaide Cabaret Festival but I strongly recommend you see this show, or any of her performances, when you can. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with the clips on YouTube.



10 shows with French links at Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2022

Cirque Bon Bon is a delicious treat!

Louise Blackwell presents a show about the life and songs of Juliette Greco ‘Love on the Left Bank’

Enter the world of Meow Meow’s Pandemonium this weekend

La Grande Folie – can stripping save the world?

Don Juan at Adelaide Cabaret Festival: don’t miss out on this party celebrating the legend

Mario, Queen of the Circus invites you to Cirque Bon Bon

Play French for a night with Don Juan at Adelaide Cabaret Festival



Enter your email to subscribe to new article notifications about all things French and francophone in Australia