Bourgeois and Maurice: Shedding Skin

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Defying every physical law of optics, the bitter neo-cabaret double act of Bourgeois and Maurice manage to be both sparkly and dark. When life is reflected in the ocean of sequins that adorn their most glimmering outfits, it comes back distorted.

One of their first rhyming lyrics in their new show Shedding Skin is ‘Oh my God, my daughter’s dead / I trapped her in a sofa bed’ and things rarely get much cheerier than that. With such bleak aesthetics and an acerbic put-down for everything in this dystopian world that doesn’t meet their elegantly high standards, they hardly exude cheery fun.

Any levity is subdued under a foreboding coldness. They don’t take much delight in their camp haughtiness – that’s for the audience to extrapolate – resulting in a notable absence of joie de vivre. Only on brief occasions does their frigid demeanour show signs of thawing, though it’s always welcome when it does.

Technically, they are excellent, with original songs that are musically rich, a robust sense of theatre and a camply outrageous fashion sense that makes Lady Gaga look like Miss Selfridge. With sultry malcontent Maurice on piano and the preening Bourgeois providing vocals and attitude, they look and sound fabulous. They seem to aspire to be the bastard grandchildren of Noel Coward, even if their approach is unrelenting in its arch cynicism.

While you can't be in any doubt that songs about our shape-shifting lizard masters or a romantic picnic that turns into an assisted suicide with a less-than-willing victim are supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, the deadpan duo never let it show. This is art, darling, and supposed to be taken seriously.

But the more overtly playful moments are the best, especially the fashionistas’ anthem I’m Gonna Out-Outfit You (even if introduced with an dreadful, uncharacteristically amateurish video) or the knowing Why Does Everything Look Better In Retro?

However for much of the rest of the show, based around the contrived theme of trying to return to another dimension, they take their faux joylessness so seriously that even audience interaction is shorn of cabaret’s usual playfulness. It’s why the bits between the exquisitely sharp and dry songs never quite live up to the musical peaks.

The result is an enjoyable performance piece, showcasing their fine abilities as writers and performers of bleakly comic numbers, but lacking that vital spark that would propel them to the next level.

Review date: 30 Jun 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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