Professionally trained in Drama and Ballet as well as other dance from an early age, I’ve worked in various fields of performance all my life – from traditional stage work to alternative cabaret and live art.

From the age of about 14 onwards, I participated in my father’s Expanded Cinema events – usually in live sound work.

In 1990, I began a very fruitful period of work at the Zap Club in Brighton: ZAPshows

In 1997, I set up the wonderful world of Vavavavoom! with an extraordinary collection of performers. I will be creating a special Vavavavoom archive page for this site, but in the meantime, you can find out more about this here: Vavavavoom

Sadly I had to put my ambitious plans for the Theatre of Fur project on hold to become full-time carer for my family in 2010. I am now resuming plans for this idea – more on this to come… You can read more about Theatre of Fur here: TheatreOfFur_presentation


Tragically, we lost our wonderful friend and choreographer extraordinaire, Fifi De Maintenon, in 2023 – far too soon…

Here is my eulogy for this remarkable woman:

My wonderful friend Fifi

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, people will come into your life at just the right time to change the path you’re on towards something magical that you couldn’t possibly have predicted. When I met Fifi in 1992 at the Zap Club, I could never have imagined all the incredible work we would do together and what a joy our friendship would be. Most of my memories involve us giggling or falling about laughing. Other times, when she was inevitably supporting me through a crisis, I remember her practical common sense and calm problem-solving. But most of all I cherish her supremely selfless, kind and generous spirit above all. Kindness is such an important part of humanity. I’ve never understood why it’s never been given the importance it deserves, as it would be the thing that saves us all.

Our collaboration was a match made in cabaret heaven – we connected through our love of dance, music and slapstick. We loved Hollywood musicals and the choreography of Busby Berkeley, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Bob Fosse. And we loved comedy. We decided fairly early on that we wanted to make shows that were beautiful and funny! It was also important to us to have a balance between the professional and amateur – to keep a raw edge and to make shows as accessible to as many people as possible – shows made with love.

Who knew that Fifi was secretly the Busby Berkeley of Brighton! She had an innate talent for choreography – understanding rhythm and musical structure, as well as the myriad of shapes that dancers can make. Fifi created some truly exquisite choreographed pieces – always able to adapt the work to whatever number of dancers we might have available. Her Burlesque chair dance, Angels dance and the beautiful Statues coming to life are legendary. Equally, she had a remarkable talent for costume making, with a particular love of gingham, as well as the ubiquitous feathers and sequins. Too much was never enough. It didn’t matter how wild and outrageous my ideas might be, she would not only agree wholeheartedly but always egged me on to go much further – ramping it up to the next level! ‘We need more! More glitter! More colour!’ she’d cry!

Her skills would have been in great demand for any West End show, but we chose to keep our showbusiness life separate to our day jobs. Because of her day job, Fifi tended to avoid the limelight at Vavavavoom shows – either scooting around backstage or in disguise. Luckily we had a good few excuses to encourage her onstage to dazzle all around her.  

We recently had a conversation where she said she never would have done any of that showbusiness work if it hadn’t have been for me, but I told her I was about to say the same thing to her! I could never have achieved what we did with the Zap Shows or Vavavavoom! without our wonderful collaboration. Our partnership brought together a dream team of people to work on these shows. This – together with our School of Burlesque teaching work – had far-reaching inspiration for so many people who went on to become performers themselves. I reminded her of this and how much joy we brought to so many people. That alone is an achievement to be proud of. All because we dared to be ridiculous. We dared to dream joyously and followed those dreams. We must all do that – all of you! Dare to be ridiculous and frivolous! It’s very important!

I treasure so many priceless memories. Fifi waltzing with Fez Man Bob E Gold at the Dali Museum in London where she was the most glamorous Ant Woman I’ve ever seen. Me wrestling with her – both rolling around laughing as she was dressed in a gorilla suit and me in my leopardskin bikini at the Circus Freakshow. Her positive energy – always – backstage, helping all of us into our costumes. Our exotic Summer day out in Southall sourcing beautiful Sari material and stopping off for curry in a local cafe. The adventurous road trip around California and San Francisco in 1995. This trip inspired ‘Vavavavoom’ further and another crazy idea for taking a Burlesque Bus across to Vegas. And how could we forget Fifi as the smallest high-kicking nun in the chorus line at Teaseorama 2001 in New Orleans. How could we forget New Orleans…

Regretfully, I had to give up showbusiness to become a family carer, just as Fifi and I had been working on our most ambitious project yet – the new dance theatre development ‘Theatre of Fur’ and our ‘Femmes Fatales’ show. I’m so grateful we got a chance to showcase some of those ideas on stage at least and here we really saw some of Fifi’s best choreography. I plan to make the film version dedicated to her. I was blessed to work with her on so many amazing events. Blessed to have her as such a dear friend – she was a hero and will continue to be a constant source of inspiration.

When Fifi first told me about her illness, I’ll admit I was in denial and just assumed she would easily beat this terrible cancer. Mainly because she was always one of the strongest, most tenacious and energetic women I’ve ever known – I believed her to be unstoppable! She was the woman for whom the word ‘vivacious’ was invented. Her beautiful, radiant smile and infectious joy in life beamed out for miles around her every time you were with her. Throughout her illness she faced it all with strength, dignity, stoicism and astounding positivity. An inspiration to us all. The loss is immeasurable. We always joked we would still be doing all these daft showbiz projects well into our 90s. And we always planned to do a wing walk on a bi-plane! I’m still working up the nerve for that one.

When I designed the explanatory diagrams for her book, ‘Whole Family Assessment in Social Work’, I got an insight into the level of complexity and thought that went into her social work. I realised then that Fifi approached everything she did with the same depth of thought, integrity and care. Her commitment was always 200%.

I intend to make sure her work is commemorated in all ways possible. If anyone deserves a statue she does. Preferably in a community garden dedicated to her in Brighton. The Burlesque Hall of Fame awaits. And although it’s a bit naff, I still want to name a star after her – though there will never be one bright enough.

We love Fiona Mainstone. Viva Fifi De Maintenon!

Stella Starr – March 2023