La Clique [London 2008]

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

If you thought the London Hippodrome was a tacky overpriced nightclub, popular only with teenage tourists too naïve to know any better, think again. The venue has been transformed into a stylishly decadent cabaret, where you can escape the economic calamities of the real world for the extravagant, sexy thrills of La Clique.

This global collective of burlesque, variety and circus performers has already been a sensation at arts festivals across the world, but with the West End residency, it is moving firmly into the mainstream.

Most previous attempts to revitalise these artforms have tended to focus on the dark, the gothic and the gruesome, trying to make the circus into an adjunct of heavy metal. In contrast, La Clique never forgets it’s supposed to be fun, and the result is an amusing, seductive, kinky, playful extravaganza of fantastically impressive talents.

The turns might seem, at first glance, rather old-fashioned, with an ensemble that includes hula-hoop girls, sword-swallowers, jugglers and magicians. But each performer adds a memorably original twist to their act which, when combined with the heady atmosphere of flirtatious excitement that is so artfully created, produces one exhilarating show.

Probably the stand-out star is Captain Frodo, aka the Incredible Rubber Man, who is more than an eye-watering contortionist, but also a brilliant physical comedian. Rather than making it look easy, this delightfully barmy, double-jointed Frank Spencer pulls off an hysterical slapstick routine while trying to thread his body though two stringless tennis racquets that once seen, will never be forgotten.

But the rest of this gifted cast were not far behind him. Every time you see one routine you thought couldn’t be followed, another comes and tops it.

Kinky conjurer Ursula Martinez both flummoxed and stunned the audience with her raunchy disappearing act, in which not only did the hankerchief vanish, so did her clothes, and her inhibitions. You can be sure there is nothing hidden up her sleeve.

Germany’s David O’Mer certainly got some women wet with his impressively acrobatic ‘aerial ballet’, performed suspended over – and sometimes in – an old-fashioned bathtub in only his tight denim trousers. The chiselled gymnast is a walking, advert for shrink-to-fit denim. More acrobatics came from the English Gents, a firm-torsoed, bowler-hatted pair of City folk (although actually from Australia) who pulled off the sort of delicately engineered balancing act that’s more difficult than trying to balance a real merchant bank’s books.

Elsewhere Britain’s own Miss Behave deftly, and daftly, combined physical comedy, lascivious flirting and fetishistic sword-swallowing; Montreal’s Cabaret Decadanse puppeteers set the alluring ambiance with their sassy diva lustily gyrating to a soulfully funky backtrack; and even the normally tedious hula-hoop act was given new life by exotic Ukrainian Yulia Pikhtina.

Part Freddie Mercury tribute, part juggler, Mario, Queen Of The Circus demonstrated some awe-inspiring street theatre skills, and energetically led the triumphant finale – although his other camp attempts at compering were one of the few minor flaws of the night. The others, if you want to know were a second half that couldn’t outdo the first, and the lack of a live band that would have added even more oomph to an already explosive mix.

But pay no heed to those minor niggles. This is the surely the most exuberantly entertaining evening to be had in London this season, full of laughs, amazement and unforgettable spectacle.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
London, October 2008

Review date: 14 Oct 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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