THEY’RE BACK. OH YES. INCLUDING URSULA.
There comes a time in the year when the spirit yearns for a stiff drink and a whoop-along night in a mirrored tent, watching men in pinstriped suits and bowlers doing headstands on one another’s shoulders . Or a chap in underpants and ciré 6-inch stilettos somersaulting on a trapeze, a tousled minx in underwear juggling balls on her instep, and perhaps Captain Frodo the Norwegian contortionist manoeuvring his whole lanky, double-jointed body through two tennis rackets. Without the mesh, obviously. That would be just silly.
I have followed the modern-circus-burlesque-new-Variety casts of La Soiree – in one form, notably in Edinburgh, La Clique – over eight London years. It began operations a juggling-ball’s throw from here at the old Hippodrome. It has been on the South Bank and now its ornate, faux-decadent Spiegeltent returns to the heart of loucher London in Leicester Square. And every year I think “shall I bother?” and every year come back, and leave strangely contented.
It actually gets better: in recent years achieving ever more slickness and speed between acts (what kills this sort of night stone dead is over-padded ringmastering, so La Soirée has pretty much abolished announcements, moving swiftly from act to act over its two hours with the briefest of bar intervals. Theatrically this works brilliantly: pace, surprise and variety keep you going even if a particular act is not your bag. Or if you have seen it several times before. Or, in my case, if you have to watch a lot of Captain Frodo’s contortionism through your hands. It’s the bit with the swivelling elbow that I reject: as he says, he suffers (though he doesn’t seem to mind) from ‘muscular elastosis’, or doublejointedness. On the other hand, the man is so endearing, so brilliant in his patter, so comically fine-tuned in his absurdity and so ridiculously prodigal with the confetti he pulls out of his pants to assure us that it is all more joyful than freakish.
Frodo returns this year; so do the other vital headliners, the acrobatically astonishing “English Gentlemen”, Denis Lock and Hamish McCann , bowler-hatted, pinstriped , clutching the FT and an umbrella while they swoop from one impossible feat of strength and grace to the next and eventually strip to their Union Jack pants to the strains of Land of Hope and Glory. They are stars always: even more so since McCann returns with his pole-dance Singing in the Rain round a bendy lampost, and Denis Lock to get the standing ovation of the night with a stunningly beautiful brief lecture on bubbles, and a delicate feat of physics and aesthetics as he blows them into complex shapes and makes them spin and shine aloft. Curiously touching is his coda, for once in the evening free of irony, as he urges us all to be beautiful bubbles givieng joy inthe moment and accepting our fragility.
Who else? Jarred Dewey a newcomer , elegant in stilettos on the trapeze, trapeze, a singer from New Orleans rousing the audience and covering swift kit-changes with a razzmatazz anthems, an extraordinary young man called David Girard who rotates in a giant hamster-wheel, a pouting juggleress, and a couple from Vegas who are not quite as funny as they think, and whose skill is mainly spitting bits of chewed banana into one another’s mouths over quite long distances.
Oh, and Ursula Martinez, a sort of genius in the performance-art trade, vibrant with mischievous total authority, brings first her rude cod-Spanish lesson and a song about Brexit, and then rounds off the evening with what – at the age of fifty – she has informed a sorrowful nation is the last, absolutely the last, outing of her disappearing-red-hanky strip. OMG. It’s like the ravens leaving the Tower. But you have until 8th January to see that: and the rest. And to feel curiously the better for it.
Box office: www.la-soiree.com 0207 492 9942 to 8 Jan. NY Eve is a special…
rating four (given it a Christmouse to mark the season