The Christmas and new year period is the one time that I prefer not to be in the UK. Why travel around the world chasing the sun during our summer, and then stay here when it’s freezing, dark and depressing? Better to hang in there ‘til December and then make good your escape to somewhere that will make you hot and sweaty. Sadly, as I was ‘financially-challenged’ this Christmas, the only beaches that were calling were the extremely beautiful but relatively cold ones of Cornwall, where I was heading off to on 27th December. Little did I know that my friend had found a way to get us hot under the collar before then, without stepping foot out of London. At Amanda’s invitation, I joined her and some other mates on Boxing Day to see the circus cabaret show, La Soirée. I didn’t really know what to expect, but housed as it is in the specially constructed ‘Southbank Big Top’, near the National Theatre and Royal Festival Hall, I knew it would be something special and felt like an excited child looking forward to panto.
The show starts the moment you step inside the Big Top. The gorgeous decor instantly transports you into a magical world, where the circus meets burlesque. Plush, velvet curtains drape the foyer, bar area and arena. Little side stalls sell sweets and cupcakes. The floor manager and his male assistants are sharp in tailored suits and pointy shoes, whilst the usherettes, who double as waitresses, are smoking hot in crisp blouses, pencil skirts, high-heels and up-dos. And just like the circus, seating is arranged in a circle around the stage, giving a great view from every side. There’s even table service for people in the booths that run around the edge. I loved it the moment I got there.
La Soirée has an ever-changing cast of characters, so you probably won’t see the exact same line-up each time you go.
But regardless of who appears before you, you can be sure they’ve carefully honed their very individual skills to create unique acts for themselves. I’m sure they would all agree with Captain Frodo, the brilliant contortionist, when he said that as a child he would never have believed he’d be making his living the way he does. But he is. Because what he does, he does well. It’s strange. But he does do it very well. This grown man kicks off the show by squeezing his entire body through the middle of a normal sized tennis racket. Later, he returns for a mind-boggling balancing act, performed on his bottom. Poised on top of a baked-bean-can-sized container, which itself is balanced on top of four tins, each increasing in size, taking him about 5 ft off the ground –with one of his legs stretching straight up towards the sky and resting behind his head. Of course! It’s a sight to behold.
Tonight, La Soirée also presents us with Le Gateau Chocolat, a ‘cuddly’ black man in extremely tight, bright lycra and wonderfully over the top make-up, including huge false eyelashes and bright red lipstick that highlights his perfectly pouting lips, nestled between his beard and moustache. LGC sings us a mixture of pop and opera, switching between a sweet, high-pitched, gentle voice and a gruff, deep, manly one. Along the way, he gives nervous-looking men in the audience a gentle stroke of the face, a teasing tickle with his feather boa or a coquettish wiggle of his ample, highly-visible bum. By the time he finales to the feel-good tune of ‘Holiday’ by Madonna, he has us all eating out of his hands. Utterly hilarious!
In fact, all the acts are great. Miss Behave sets the men’s pulses racing, with her sexy tight rubber dress and killer stilettos. She pops up throughout the show, in between acts.
Before it’s even her turn on stage, she can be seen wandering around the arena, sharing shots of alcohol with members of staff. She staggers on stage, finishing her own drink and then grabbing drinks from the audience and finishing those off, too. Nobody minds. People are laughing, enjoying the spectacle of the drunken pretty lady. Until she takes a rose and threads its long stalk through her tongue, followed up nicely by her using her tongue as an ashtray to stub a cigar out on it. Just when you think you’ve finished grimacing, you find yourself watching through your fingers as she swallows the entire length of a table leg… Why, pretty lady? Why?
Mooky takes the stage and grabs an unassuming audience member to join her. You can see from his eyes that any initial embarrassment is soon over-ridden by fear, when he realises she wants them to sing a duet. But he needn’t have worried about not knowing the words – it quickly becomes clear that Mooky’s written all of his parts across various bits of her body and clothing. She’s very funny and her guest star does himself proud, deciphering lyrics from a multitude of interesting places!
Next, The English Gents, Denis Lock and Hamish McCann, give us their take on what it means to be British. Dressed in smart pinstriped suits, ties and bowler hats, the pair leap, balance impossibly and somersault around the stage area in an exhilarating display of acrobatics that has us all on the edge of our seats. The last thing any of us expects is for them to strip off for their finale. But they bring their act to a climax wearing just their Union Jack boxer shorts, socks – complete with sock braces, shoes and bowler hats. Very British, indeed. The Gents later perform solo: Denis dons a kimono to perform a Japanese-style act, building and scaling a ridiculously high tower of four-legged chairs and then balancing precariously at the top. A great act, which we were scared just watching.
But then it’s Hamish’s turn. The act starts off as a slick, understated tribute to Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain”, with him leaning against a lamppost, looking dapper in a suit and trilby hat and then walking seductively around the post. Then the music changes abruptly. Out blasts the sultry tones of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” and the act turns into one of the most amazing physical performances I’ve ever seen. Hamish throws off his jacket and trilby, keeping on his trousers and shirt this time. He holds onto the pole with both hands and, legs outstretched, literally walks up a wall of air, until his legs are way past his head. One leg clasped around the pole, he lets go with his hands and hangs upside down from the top, perfectly controlled. And then proceeds to do the splits upside down, in mid-air. He twirls slowly around the pole, to the continuing strains of Nina, then does the splits against the pole. Stretching his arms and legs out completely, he hangs horizontally like a human branch, then starts turning slowing around the pole again. I can’t even begin to imagine how physically fit you must be to do that. His stomach, arm and leg muscles must feel like concrete. Fully clothed, it was an amazing, beautiful, sexy display of what the human body can do. And when he took his shirt off at the end, for his final twirl, we could only stare open-mouthed. Regardless of his thermometer-breaking measurement on the Hottie Scale, on a technical level alone, it was the best performance of the night.
Then Bath Boy – aka, the Berlin gymnast, David O’Mer – came on stage and showed us how he got his nickname.
Think Levi’s Bath ad, circa 1986, but with acrobatics. Dressed only in a pair of jeans for this highly original act, David starts off lying in a bath filled with water, before rising up to grab onto two long pieces of ribbon, and twirling them around his arms to pull himself upwards towards the ceiling – all whilst performing amazing aerial ballet sequences. In a heart-stopping display of skill and strength, he tumbles the great height back down the ribbon, at speed, stopping inches from injuring himself against the bath. Great stuff.
I think everyone needs a bit of La Soirée in their life. It’s great old-fashioned fun, with a very modern twist to it. The perfect daft night out. And the perfect antidote to any winter blues.