Who else could swallow a chair leg, put their body through a tennis racket and stand on another’s head wearing only pants and a bowler hat? Why, it must be the stars of La Clique of course. The famed cabaret show has spawned this second evening of bizarre exploits, La Soirée.
While La Clique took up residence at the London Hippodrome – winning a Laurence Olivier Award in the process – and subsequently the Roundhouse, La Soirée has created a venue all of its own. Behind the National Theatre on the South Bank a big top has appeared. Not dissimilar to the Spiegel Tent, which made an appearance at this year’s Edinburgh festival, La Soirée’s portable home boasts Art Deco-style mirrors, colourful, opulent decor and a warm, intimate atmosphere. This is a gem of a venue that invites you to have fun.
Luckily, fun is exactly the aim of the evening. In their own inimitable style, this eclectic bunch of performers wow you with their skills and endear you to them with their charm. Captain Frodo is a case in point. This double-jointed Norse contortionist can dislocate his shoulder to fit his body through a ten-inch diameter tennis racket, but it is his gauche charm that makes the act. Looking like a less attractive version of Bjorn Borg, he teeters about the small stage, legs akimbo, falling over, getting stuck and displaying angles that should really never be seen; it is a practised artlessness that adds comedy to his unusual skill.
La Soirée begins with Cabaret Décadanse, Canadian puppeteers who create diva-like singers with distinctly human movements, and the evening proceeds with performances from Miss Behave – a drunk in a PVC dress with a penchant for swallowing long items – and hula-hoop artist Marawa, who commands the humble hoop with ease. Mooky, a Canadian physical comedian, is a comic highlight with her thoroughly contemporary clowning. Without a red nose or oversized shoe in sight she entertains the audience with two segments, one involving an unlucky audience member who finds himself the star of Mooky’s show.
But the ultimate stars of this show have to be the lads. Both The English Gents and David O’Mer – aka Bath Boy – impress with their physical achievements, in more ways than one. The former comprises two acrobats who combine feats of strength and control with a very British stiff upper lip. Much to the crowd’s enjoyment, the pinstripe suits are soon discarded showing the spectacularly honed bodies that have enabled such impressive exploits. Both English Gents return later for their own solo acts; Hamish McCann’s ability with a pole is truly unbelievable.
As for O’Mer, the Berlin gymnast has made something of a name for himself since appearing in La Clique, and he knows it. With the use of a bathtub and some ropes, Bath Boy has created an act that is both skilful and shamelessly sexy. At times it felt like being in a Diet Coke advert.
The staples of La Soirée will be joined throughout this festive run by special guests, making this an evening you could return to again and again, if only to look more closely at how exactly they manage to do what they do. As my companion last night said, how did these people discover they had such unusual skills? It is a question perhaps best left unanswered…