LA SOIREE Spiegeltent, South Bank


It’s back for Christmas: pure entertainment, faux-decadent but full of heart, skilful and cheerful and elegant and daft. In the great glittering tent by the Thames battering circus music softens us up to be astonished by miracles of grace and balance, to catch our breath at impossibilities and giggle at benign naughtinesses. Over eleven years the “new variety”, boldly burlesque grown-up circus has refined and perfected its formats, and collected artistes from across the world: aerialists and exhibitionists, jugglers and jokers, Weimar wannabes crooning darkly in preposterous feathers, acrobats in bondage gear. On any given night a selection of them hurtle and fly and preen and beguile and clown. I fall for it every time, one of the best , racketiest of nights out with never a minute wasted.
That lack of time-wasting is a prosaic thing to mention, but it matters: there is no ringmaster to drive you nuts with drawn-out pleasantries and unnecessary build-ups. Once it begins, smooth stage-management whirls it from act to act, balancing silent astonishments with sharp (and yes, some very adult) verbal jokes. Old hands will recognize seasoned Soirée performers. Clarke McFarlane in his studded leather biker outfit and bare tummy makes a couple of appearances as Mario Queen of the Circus, makes us sing We Are The Champions in tribute to the great Freddie, juggles and crowdsurfs and attempts a world record for the most people inside a hula-hoop. (Two. If he catches your eye to help him, don’t).

Captain Frodo the Norwegian contorionist does the thing with getting his body through two tennis-rackets: I have to cover my eyes intermittently in horror, but he is so verbally funnyand so likeable as he delivers an earnest commentary with one arm and leg through a racket and tangles himself in his microphone that his final extrication is cathartic. Australian Asher Treleaven with his “Sexy Diabolo For Ladies” and disgraceful Mills and Boon reading is a joy still. The English Gentlemen Denis Lock and Hamish Mc Cann, in bowlers and pinstripes, again do headstands and impossible balancing acts on one another while reading the Financial Times or puffing a pipe. Seen that and loved it several times, including the bit where they strip to union jack underpants and sock-suspenders; but Denis Lock now returns with another turn. It is a new, extraordinarily beautiful and scientifically fascinating bubble-blowing act. What? Bubble-blowing? for grownups? Yes. Astonishing.

Among these favourites are newcomers: Melanie Chy, androgynously ferocious doing hand-balancing on a smoking giant motorbike; Bret Pfister tough and tattooed swirling in a hoop overhead; a remarkable, sultry new aerialist General Yammel, who smokes a cigar while gyrating crazily on slings. The linking chanteuse this year is Miss Frisky (without her familiar cabaret oppo Mannish), doing the Weimary thing in an explosion of orange hair and gold lamé.
It couldn’t be done better. And for all the adults-only lines (well, I’d happily take a savvy mid-teen) the overarching spirit is of innocent, astonished joy. to 17 Jan   5 Meece Rating   give ’em the cheese!  Five.


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