South Bank Big Top, London SE1
Opened 21 October, 2010
La Soirée is, you might say, the continuation of La Clique by other means... although it might be truer to describe it as a return to this alt.cabaret show's roots. Before its London runs at the Hippodrome and the Roundhouse, La Clique first became a hit on the Edinburgh Fringe, staged in the Famous Spiegeltent. Now, with a minor change of name (who knows why?), La Soirée has acquired a mirror-tent of its own until the end of January, pitched just behind the National Theatre. There is something about such a space that adds to the atmosphere of surrealism and fantasy on which this collection of oddball acts thrives. One by one they take their positions on the barely 8-foot-diameter podium and strut, fling, swallow and contort their stuff.

All the familiar acts are here: balancing duo The English Gents, comedy sword-swallower Miss Behave, unorthodox puppeteers Cabaret Decadanse and of course Norwegian contortionist Captain Frodo, who squeezes his body through a 10-inch tennis racquet frame. Frodo combines his unsettling double-jointed gift with a wonderful line in self-parodic patter: pausing halfway through his routine, with the racquet around his waist and one leg poking through at a crazy angle, he remarks, “Now that I have your attention, I'd like to talk to you about Jesus...”

It is this playfulness which makes La Soirée, above all, a fun evening. Miss Behave knows that her stunts do not so much provoke “Wow!” as “Why?”; Canadian newcomer Mooky, in character as a dippy classical actress, press-gangs a member of the audience to act as her stooge, reading lines off various parts of her anatomy, but never makes the punter seem sillier than she is herself. This is perhaps why one of the show's hottest hits, aerialist David O'Mer, has never especially impressed me: whereas The English Gents put a camp character spin on the stripping-off element of their act, there is a narcissism to O'Mer's cavorting in and above a bath full of water that no amount of prettiness and muscle tone can counter. But there is always another act along in a minute or two to charm or mystify or otherwise fascinate. Shows such as La Soirée confirm that variety cabaret isn't dead yet, and that it would be a shame to lose it.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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