Thursday, November 13, 2014

'La Soiree' at Der Spiegeltent, 11th November 2014

There comes a point where the sight of a grinning showgirl clutching a brace of hula-hoops, a diablo spinner or a juggler wielding a set of clubs sinks the heart.  Familiarity breeds contempt, so you settle back into your seat ready to watch the same old act you've seen umpteen times before.  This was my first reaction to La Soiree and it's one I now feel a bit guilty about.  You see, while this circus/cabaret/burlesque show consists of the kinds of acts you've seen before, you won't have seen them done this well.

The first aspect that elevates La Soiree above the rest is the impressive Spiegeltent.  Sat on the South bank Between the London Eye and Royal Festival Hall, it nestles in the middle of a Christmas fair; the air thick with the festive smells of mulling wine, sizzling sausages and sweetly pungent stollen.  Inside it's all drapery, fresh wood and  mirrored walls.  Stepping through the curtain melts away the miserable London winter, replacing it with a creamy dollops of Weimar Republic stylishness.

Running for about two hours, La Soiree certainly gives you your money's worth with maybe 15 or 16 acts..  These range from warped cabaret, old school circus performances, bizarro performance art and stand-up comedy. The variety means boredom is unlikely; showcases of physical endurance cleverly programmed to contrast feats of artistry and skill.  I don't have the space to describe everything that I saw, but here's a few acts that lodged firmly in the memory.

first are The English Gents: Denis Lock and Hamish McCann. With their pinstripes, bowler hats and copies of the Financial Times they wouldn't look out of place on an early morning Waterloo & City Line tube.  But then these dapper gentlemen effortlessly perform a series of mindbending feats of strength; balancing in all kinds of crazy ways on each other while maintaining a very English snooty civility.  The highlight comes as they leave the stage, only to be drawn back to it by the opening chords of Land of Hope and Glory.  Chins jutting out they rip off their suits to reveal superhero physiques.  Throughout they move with easy confidence and charisma, you like them even though they never say a word.

While we're on the subject of physical craziness, it'd be remiss not mention Jonathan Burns. He takes the stage looking like a geeky refugee from a Wes Anderson film; all tracksuits, headbands and awkwardness.  As he prances around thrusting his skinny hips and maniacally grinning we wonder exactly what the hell his act is going be.  The mysterious appearance of a tennis racquet without cords doesn't help the confusion.  But then he pops the racquet over his head and proceeds to pull his bony body right through it.  Joints pop out of place and limbs jut out at crazy angles as he squeezes through a variety of objects; the most impressive an arse-first entry through a picture frame.  Burns gave me the freaky shivers - just how does it feel to be jammed halfway through a toilet seat?!

Given that I love marvelling at talented people doing crazy things with their bodies, it's a little odd that the next of my highlights is man simply reading from a book. This is Asher Treleaven's stand-up comedy routine in which we hear extracts from a steamy Mills & Boon romance. Treleaven guides us through a wonderfully overwritten bit of purple prose describing an encounter between a comely young lass and Slade, an overmuscled (and prodigiously cocked) sexual dynamo.  I see a lot of funny stuff, but rarely do I see something so funny that I accidentally snort wine out of my nose. 

By far the most memorable was an act that lodged itself in my brain and will likely haunt my dreams (nightmares?) for year to come is Scotty the Blue Bunny.  Scotty is a 47 year old, very tall, very gay man in a blue skintight, spandex bunny suit.  Like a cross between The Tick, Donnie Darko and some genderfucked playboy doll he bounces about smashing big balloons with his butt, singing weird half-songs and generally looking ecstatically pleased that he has turned this into a career.  I suppose if you truly feel that your calling in life is to become a nightmarish hyper-sexual bunnyman thenlive your dream.  My favourite bit was when he popped up mid act munching a carrot and drooling the chewed up debris on a woman who looked genuinely outraged and disturbed.  

There's a tonne of stuff I should mention here, but if I go on any longer I run the risk of spoiling too much.  This is a decadent and dangerous show and it's difficult to imagine anyone being disappointed by it.  I've already recommended it to two people looking for something fun to do on these shivery, gloomy nights, and I'm recommending it to you now.  Sure you might have seen variations on some of these acts before but this is a cut way way above the crowded London cabaret crowd.  

La Soiree is at the Spiegeltent until 11th January 2015 Tickets here.

Huge thanks to the wonderful Rebecca Felgate of Official Theatre (and their sponsor, the ever-useful Seatplan) for the tickets.

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