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LA SOIREE Aldwych, WC1




Relief flooded in with the first act, Cabaret Decadanse from Montreal. Here was a larger-than-life lip-synching puppet diva made of glittering springs , doing a Shirley Bassey version of “If you could read my mind” while rather skilfully groping her own puppeteer’s bra. Splendid. This is what we came for. Then barely time to clap before Rajesh Amrale and Rajesh Mudki, fresh from Mumbai, sprang into action like twin Mowglis in extraordinarily graceful , rapidly accelerating poses and balances and twirls around a fat wooden pole. Next, to lower the tone a bit on came the pleasingly disreputable Mark and Svetlana from Vegas in leopardprint naffery (“Daredevil Chicken” they call themselves ). Their first of several turns was the classic gross-out of long-distance spitting into one another’s mouths. In this case not ping-pong-balls but fragments of banana. One, as it happened, landing in my ringside friend’s lap.



That one is never my favourite genre, but was somehow reassuring. The relief is because I had wondered whether La Soirée would work without the Spiegeltent on the South bank, the whiff of old hot-dogs and Thames fog. Would Brett Haylock’s fringe-born, “dysfunctional family” of new-variety acrobatics and cabaret be somehow selling out by coming in to the stately Aldwych Theatre? Has it gone all premium-price black tie on us?



Nope. None of that. Tickets from £ 17, stalls removed for those red folding chairs; a ring in front of the proscenium , a few table seats onstage, a drink in your fist, plenty of smoke and razzle. And – a plus – the full height of the space can be used to spectacular effect for higher aerialist turns than the old tent could accommodate. And actally, this year’s line-up is probably the best they’ve had yet, quite making up for the retirement from nude hanky frolics of Ursula Martinez (she’s up at the Soho by the way, in a new show). Daredevil Chicken were back several times, banana-free and really quite horribly brilliant in their Vegas way, and meanwhile we were dazzled repeatedly by acrobatics (in one case I find I wrote “eroticrobatics” . That was when Leon and Klodi slithered around one another, as if doing a neck-stand upside down on one’s partner’s shoulders was really pleasingly sensual rather than an oof-ouch! moment).



The sheer marvel of athleticism is an important part of new-variety evenings – a certain blindfold swinging and catching aloft was almost shocking – but in some ways it is pure beauty that stills the heart: Michele Clark’s manipulation of hoops is hypnotic, optically illusionist grace: the remarkable Fancy Chance may dangle alarmingly from her own hair but it is the swirling of her white angel-wing robe and the glitter of her spinning finale that entrance.



Favourite for me was the dryly, extravagantly witty turns of Amy G from New York. She can perform flamenco on roller-skates with sharp banter and male audience recruitment, deploy risqueé inappropriateess in a 10ft feather boa, caress helpless stage-seat chaps with “Ooh, my lipstick;s on your nose” and fondle men’s ears with her stiletto shoe. Nor do many shows feature a Trump-era rendering of “America The Beautiful” on what I can only call a genital kazoo.



And the Decadanse puppeteers were back twice, brilliantly. And yes, some stark nudity occurred, male this time and very funny, plus La Serviette, which is a masculine take on the fan-dance with tablecloths. They’re doing a petite soiree for the more easily shocked age group in the afternoon, but – despite a particularly interesting employment of a Beatle-wig as a temporary male merkin – there is nothing which is not , in the last analysis, absolutely admirable.
Well, except the soggy bananas. But no cabaret should take place entirely in anyone’s Safe Space, should it?



box office 0845 200 7981 http://www.la-soiree.com To Feb.

rating four




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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.

http://www.la-soiree.com to 17 Jan   5 Meece Rating   give ’em the cheese!  Five.

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LA SOIREE South Bank SE1

There’s a towering, assertive giant gay blue rabbit in skintight Spandex, a stripping trapeze artiste hurling garments at the front row, a sadfaced clown who sings Cohen’s Hallelujah like a depressed angel; there is juggling and jokes and a superbly rude faux-baffled reading of a Mills and Boon sex scene. There are brief acts and sustained ones, a provocative diablo, a worrying contortionist, Ursula Martinez’ legendary hanky turn, hulahooping, quick-change transformations and a bathtub aerialist. And dammit, here’s the blue bunny again: lurking in the back stalls of the gorgeous mirrored Spiegeltent…why? Who knows.
I have loved these evenings ever since the first, in Edinburgh in 2004; call it new variety, or performance-cabaret, or circus burlesque, or whatever takes your fancy: it has been riotously successful, giving a platform to individual acts and forging an identity both pleasingly louche and unthreateningly friendly. That last quality is important, because not everyone is a natural nightclubber. As for the tag “not recommended for children” and the nudity warning, it must be said that its sexiness is not of the dead-eyed Soho variety. It is so joyfully self-mocking that I would very happily take a young teen (actually, it could be a useful corrective to the dreary porn they all see online).

And goodness, it’s fun. Partly because under the production of Brett Haylock the two-hour show is immaculately paced. This matters: I have been to similar events (with some of the same artistes) where heavyhanded ringmastering and a tolerance of iffy, slow-moving banter took much of the joy out of it. Here, however, there is no self-satisfied ringmaster but a swift, skilful segue of one act to the next, varying between the mainly funny and the breathtakingly acrobatic. It’s brilliant.



Aficionados and world travellers should know some names which headline this anniversary London run: Puddles Pity Party, an astonishing voice, is the big glum singing pierrot; Tanya Gagné of the Wau Wau sisters of NYC strips on the trapeze, you might see The English Gents, or David and Fofo from Sweden who spit ping-pong-balls. And from Australia Asher Treleaven is our Mills -and-Boon interpreter. His sad outraged “No – that’s not a Thing!” stays with me still.



Top night out, essence of joyful skill. I’m going again, on proper paid-for tickets: that’s how good it is.

+44 (0)20 7960 4200 http://www.la-soiree.com To 11 Jan

rating: five   4 Meece Ratingthe fifth being a Merry-Christmouse  libby, christmas cat

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