Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cabaret Roulette: 'Guilty Pleasures' at Madame JoJos, 9th April 2014

I like Soho.  I like the piss-addled alleys.  I like the bitchy queens hanging around outside the Admiral Duncan.  I like Gosh! Comics. I like the neon soaked sex shops.  I like Maoz Falafel. And I especially like Madame JoJos.  As London fattens itself on the blood of Russian oligarchs and glittering glass erections thrust out of the 14th century plague pits it's reassuring to know that the heart of the city is all about tits, cocks and cum.  Perversely it's the sleaze that's most honest these days, 200 years of libido baked into the filthy paving stones.

This means that sitting underground in Madame JoJos watching cabaret feels imperceptibly 'right'.  You're participating (however subtly) in a human chain of debauchery stretching back to the Georgian era.  As you sit surrounded by plush red velvet and gilt, art deco ornamentation you can practically sense the ghosts of gangsters, beatniks and showgirls swanning around you. Tonight the theme is 'guilty pleasures' and honestly, enjoying all this sticky, louche glamour is one of mine. 

Cabaret Roulette is a regular fixture at JoJos: it's mission to bring democracy to vaudeville. The idea is that the audience chooses the theme for upcoming nights, suggesting them on their Facebook page and then picking one based on how much applause the concept gets in the club.  Once it's been decided eight performers have two months to develop an act based on the theme.  On the bill tonight are a nicely varied mixture of magic, music, and dance - all leavened with a decent dose of satire.

In charge of this whole shebang is Eva Von Schnippish, in character as a slightly warped randy Marlene Dietrich type.  She makes the whole thing look effortless, which of course means that she's really good at her job. There's a cosy familiarity to this kind of patter, material that basically hearkens back to end-of-the-pier shows at then-glitzy seaside resorts and has its roots in the mythical Weimar cabaret.  

Jeu Jeu La Foille
An early highlight is Jeu Jeu La Foille.  She brings on stage a bag-for-life from the Richmond branch of Whole Foods, an item that neatly encompasses a wide range of emotions: bourgeois foodie superiority, economic healthiness coupled with big box corporate hippyism.  To the opening bars of Meat is Murder she pulls a Burger King Whopper out, guilt and pleasure fighting for control.  Soon after there's a Gaga-esque meat dress (though disappointingly not actually made of meat), and the flourishing of a pork pie and bag of scratchings.  Bleeding hunks of murdered meat and eroticism is a potent combination, and even though this is largely pro-meat it's at minimum promising to see the act of consuming flesh as a 'guilty' pleasure and not just a straightforward one.

After some crazy/sexy jazz contortionism by the amazing Lily Raptor we move onto Merlesque.  It's difficult to pin down exactly what's so erotically magnetic about a pair of murderous ukelele wielding half woman half fish girls - I began to suspect it was excavating some long-buried pre-adolescent yearnings for Ariel from The Little Mermaid.  These suspicions were confirmed when they launched into a twisted cover of Part of My World mixed up with references to cut-throat capitalism and Karl Marx.  Be still my beating heart!

Bigchief Randomchaos
Up next was puke-drinking and self-harm from Bigchief Randomchaos.  This is a kind of gonzo clown act pitched somewhere between Rob Zombie and the Jim Rose Circus.  The whole thing is shot through with freewheeling anarchism, skating on the thin ice between entertainment and disgust. Randomchaos is, if nothing else, charismatic - able to pinpoint the exact point between charm and obnoxiousness.  As he lowers his bare ass onto a tray covered in drawing pins, all while assuring us that enjoying this would be his guilty pleasure if he felt guilty about it. As he stands up the pins tinkle to the floor and his ass crack burns an angry red. We'll take his word for that this is fun.

Alfie Ordinary
Following this was an intricate ballad about big cocks and Justin Bieber from Anna Lou Larkin and some booze-raddled magic by Miss Jones.  After them was Alfie Ordinary, playing melancholy piano-led covers of Gina G's Ooh Ahh.. Just a Little Bit and Carly Rae Jepson's Call Me Maybe.  With a persona pitched just the right side of drag, Alfie embodies the spirit of cabaret.  This is a self-deprecating confessional - a bitingly morose romantic world of unrequited passions. He injects his pop with impossible longing - transforming mindless burbling lyrics into something honest and true.

Peggy De Lune
Last on was Peggy De Lune performing a punk-tinged striptease to Die Antwoord's Cookie Thumper.  She began in pink puffery, a squeaky caricature bimbo queen.  More child than woman she fluffed around the stage burbling Betty Boopish drivel.  But as soon as that killer bass beat kicked in all bets were off.  Cookie Thumper, if you're not familiar with the song, is a machine-gun rap-rant by mean-ass mentalist Yolandi Vi$$er over pounding techno beats. The song has an electric rhythm running right through it, plugged right into De Lune's nervous system.  The song gets more and more aggressively bananas as it goes on, as did the dance - culminating in a topless whirl of nipples and Capri-sun. It was a perfect capper to the evening - I'm not even sure what could have followed her. 

The only thing that could have made this a more perfect Soho night was if I'd gotten mugged, puked down my shirt and woken up covered in glitter in a wheelie bin - but it was a worknight after all. Maybe on the weekend.

The next Cabaret Roulette is on 14th May - the theme: VILLAINY.

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