Boom Boom Club at Old Vic Tunnels

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Talk about taking underground cabaret literally. Hidden away in a cavernous, industrial space beneath London’s Waterloo Station, The Boom Boom Club immediately has an atmosphere that’s grimy, illicit and decadent – perfectly matching the modern-day burlesque stars who have gathered here.

Accessed through an unmarked door off an intimidating, graffiti-strewn underpass, as if it were some counter-culture Narnia, this short-lived speakeasy combines traditional cabaret-style shows with promenade performance and installation art for a full ‘immersive’ experience.

Audiences are offered the choice of two main shows. One is themed as a lavish nocturnal party – but we chose the church-themed room, figuring anything sprung from Catholic guilt would probably be more twisted and depraved. You are free to move between shows, although it seems very rude to disturb both the performers and your neighbours in the theatre-style rows to do so.

This room was hosted by cabaret stalwart Des O’Connor, in full priestly garb, welcoming sinners to display their full wicked behaviour before seeking his divine forgiveness. He squeezed in a couple of songs – or ‘hymns’ as he would have it – with his ukulele, but his arch attitude is far more potent that the lyrics.

The sacrilegious tone was maintained with Polly Rae, dressed as a slutty nun and strip-teasing to an ultra-sultry version of the Pet Shop Boys’ It’s A Sin. Yet for full-on demonic possession, look to Leilani ‘Lucky’ Franco – a brilliant contortionist whose Exorcist-inspired routine was as disturbing as it was impressive, making the room rise to their feet, craning for a better view.

-East End Cabaret provided another luscious and lewd musical interlude; while Piff The Magic Dragon provided typically deadpan banter to accompany his adept illusions, subverting the showmanship you might expect from a man dressed as a mythical lizard.

Hopes are not high for an old-school mime, whose business revolves around a crystal ball, but Matt Hennem made it come alive, with a magical, mesmerising routine; while the crescendoing beats of percussionist duo Up And Over It – think Stomp without any props – brought this show to a suitably rhythmic crescendo.

The promenade performances were, unfortunately, less impressive. The acrobat rocking in her half-moon seemed almost bored, while the rope artist appeared a little sad, performing not to her own soundtrack but to the tunes of DJ Nick Hollywood of White Mink, bleeding in from the other room. Mind you, he did create a great atmosphere for the bars. A collection of fortune-telling booths were more fun, and helped evoke the carnie spirit running right through the Boom Boom Club.

They were only in the Old Vic Tunnels for this weekend, making it a suitably fly-by-night visit – but this naughty-but-nice cabaret will surely be back. Make sure you visit their secret lair when they do.

Review date: 4 Oct 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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