As a baby, Veronica Thompson was found outside a police station in Korea, presumably sent into a different life by a mother illequipped for children. Four decades later, Thompson has developed her own place in the world as neo-burlesque superstar Fancy Chance. “When you come from quite dire circumstances and end up in a good place, it awakens you to the struggles that people are going through,” she tells me. “Especially with the refugee crisis in war-torn places… I get really upset, touched, and extremely impacted by child migration. I was a heartbeat aware from being placed in that kind of circumstance.” This empathy, her own experiences, and plenty of poignancies have been packed into Flights of Fancy, a globe-trotting, time-travelling debut show.
Staged as a three-leg aircraft journey, its story draws together offbeat comedy, original song, and outrageous film into a heart-warming spectacle. She’s been working on this for a few years, but assures that this is the definitive version. From starting out as a refugee to becoming the darling of the London cabaret scene, it follows her formative moments wrapped up in a tidy ‘narrative bow’ about sympathy and understanding. “It’s children that suffer most from the conflicts that happen anywhere. From domestically to war, everyone suffers but the children have zero-choice and don’t have the ability to move or look after themselves.” As a child, growing up just north of Seattle, her adoptive mother was very involved in the adoption community. This brought plenty of contact with kids who were given away because of disabilities or gender. “You’d have children coming over with absolute survival skills. They’d be hiding food, and the parents would be going: ‘Holy shit! I have to reprogram my kid, who doesn’t speak any English, to let them know there will be another meal.’” She acknowledges many people will never come into contract with anything like that. This was motivation enough to bring some of these themes into her show.
Now is the time to produce a solo work. She’d been presenting short-form routines as part of an ensemble for years, but now feels empowered with the sensitivity and lack of ego to delve into a more personal performance. “It makes you quite vulnerable, but I’ve found the right collaborator to create something quite authentic.” Her work spans burlesque, drag, circus, and live art. In 2009, she was crowned ‘Alternative Miss World’ and in 2010 ‘London’s Top Tranny’. Although she adores being part of larger collaborative process, the rewards of going alone are unquestionable. “I get to flesh out whole thoughts and themes within anecdotes. It’s nice, but scary – super scary. Because it’s just me and whatever work I put into it.” After five days at Soho Theatre during April, the show attracted rave reviews, and now heads out on a tour which lands at Brighton’s Marlborough Theatre on Fri 15 – Sat 16 Sept.
In the early 2000s she moved to London, quickly finding likeminds amongst a burgeoning neo-burlesque scene. Fancy Chance would perform in shows which incorporated politics, tons of humour and drag work in a ‘burle-queer’ cabaret extravaganzas. While many of her contemporaries have drifted to the more alternative reaches of the cabaret scene, she now tends to be booked alongside classic burlesque performers as a light-hearted element. She mentions a distinct issue amongst some corners of the scene. Many artists are in danger of being reduced to objects of male pleasure. Straight men working as comperes can often contribute to the problem with an ill-placed retro attitude. The capital’s tastes for neo-burlesque undoubtedly helped revive the wider live performance scene, and in turn variety shows. “It gave people an appetite to go out. To dinner shows, where before they just weren’t as prevalent.” Almost two decades on and the performance arts are now celebrated across Europe – from festivals and clubs to theatres and television. Fancy Chance exists in the orbit of this scene. Producing work of merit and passion, she relishes having found an environment where she can flourish. “There’s such a good supportive community in and around London. I really feel like I have a name. And I have a place, where there’s a lovely group of humans are all creating things.”
Fancy Chance: Flight of Fancy comes to The Marlborough Theatre on Fri 15 – Sat 16 Sept.