EROTICROBATICS, BANANAS, HIGH JINKS
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.