Aldwych Theatre, London – until 3 February 2018
The venerable Aldwych Theatre has been transformed into a sleek and saucy cabaret spot for the next couple of months, while the internationally jet-setting La Soirée team woo us and wow us from their imported red spot stage. The famous platform can’t be more than two and a half meters across, abutting the venue’s more usual stage – which is home this season to VIP ticket holders at fancy cabaret tables instead – and otherwise ringed by our up-close-and-very-personal seats, whose rows fade back into the distance of the stalls and Edwardian balcony.
This is an adult show and, sitting right up on the front row, I know that any one of us is fair game for a bit of interactive entertainment. Tightly gripping my glossy programme between applauses seems to work, as I get away with just a handshake, a few stray beads of sweat, and some blistering eye-contact from the performers working their charismatic skills up in front of me. There’s nothing sleazy or sordid going on, but there are several acres of male chest on show, and some lower extremities too at moments…
My time is pretty fairly split between stomach-rocking laughter, upwards facing wide-eyed grins, and jumps back into my seat with clenching claw-hands. The formula that evolved out of La Clique into La Soirée in 2010 still maintains its fabulous balance of thrill acts, risqué comedy, and adventurous cabaret, hosted by original producer Brett Haylock.
The show opens with a disco drag diva lip-sync from the Cabaret Décadanse burlesque puppetry duo, whose portfolio of talent all deliver superb animated showmanship this evening, and then we’re into the Mallakhamba pole acrobatics of Rajesh Amrale and Rajesh Rao as ‘Mallakhamb India’. The technique is similar to Chinese pole, but the equipment is thicker, shorter, and wooden, gripped around with interlocking fingers, and allowing for fast leg movements that pass over and around the top of the pole, with the two men poised remarkably close to each other, balancing above or dropping face-first towards the ground. I’m here with my friend Katherine. She’s gripping my arm with her fingernails and whimpering ‘I don’t like it!’ with a big grin all over her face. The music is loud in our ears, there’s chalk in our eyes and dry ice in our noses. This is invigorating stuff.
A would-be Vegas glamour couple do things with a banana that surprise bursts of cackling from me and an ‘Oh my god that is the most disgusting thing’ from Katherine (still with that big grin stuck to her face). The pair go by the name Daredevil Chicken (Anne Goldmann and Jonathan Taylor), and are welcomed back with squirms of wary delight each time they take the stage.
Hand-to-hand from Leon Fagbemi and Klodi Dabkiewicz follows a standard steamy romance with him basing her slinky poses. Watching the ‘oh shit‘ form on her lips as she misses a hand balance brings home how tight this tiny stage is, and reminds me of the lecture I delivered this afternoon at the National Centre for Circus Arts, where we discussed the different ‘bodies’ visible in a circus performance. This is a moment when any ‘Character Body‘ drops and I see the ‘Performer Body’ more clearly, while the ‘Technical Body’ temporarily overtakes the predominant ‘Aesthetic Body’ (expanding on the work of Erin Hurley, following David Graver).
Amy G in La Soirée IMAGE: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the sensuous experience of watching a circus show, and how reviews – coming generally from a theatrical tradition – usually privilege the conceptual meaning of a production over the sensational meanings written through our physiological responses. This has been an attempt not to do that!
But I also gotta tell you what else is on the bill this evening (which, as I understand it, is open to variation over the course of the run): Amy G is a multitalented clown-actor-singer-rollerskater-wind-musician who brings us comic storytelling and political taunts;
Michele Clarke in La Soirée IMAGE: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Michele Clarke is a hooper who dances fast manipulations and ghosts optical trickery in a dynamic departure from a usual big top hula act; LJ Marles is back in his home city with the award-winning tension straps invention to show off what more he can do with them, whizzing over our heads and still managing to sing along the odd word to his Michael Jackson theme song;
LJ Marles in La Soirée IMAGE: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
there is Korean Cradle from the Chilly Brothers (or, because they’re from Montreal, ‘Russian Cradle’ – after an international Facebook discussion, it appears they’re two names for the same thing). A gleeful intake of breath from behind me: ‘What’s he doing with that scarf? Oh no! Stop it!’ as flyer Nathan Briscoe blindfolds himself for Maxime Blanckaert’s catch and release. There’s hair hanging from Fancy Chance (I’ve never seen such expansive movement in this kind of act before, as she glides with angel wings from a tightly wound topknot), aerial hoop from Lea Hinz (way above my head, sometimes I lose sight of a human figure and just see swirling shine)… one downside of being this close is the danger of a crick to your neck as much as being landed on!
Fancy Chance in La Soirée IMAGE: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
After reading Dr Kate Holmes‘ thesis on aerial celebrities in the 1920s-30s, its also fun to recognise how putting aerial acts back into a theatre re-establishes their democratic value, as those with the cheaper seats in the balcony get at least as good a view as those down below for a change.
La Soirée is a rollicking good night out, and if you’re looking for something more family orientated, the Aldwych is also hosting La Petite Soirée in the daytimes for ages 8 and up. I’m tempted to go back and see that too!
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