Mat Ricardo's London Varieties | Gig review by Steve Bennett at Leicester Square Theatre

Mat Ricardo's London Varieties

Note: This review is from 2013

Gig review by Steve Bennett at Leicester Square Theatre

Juggler Mat Ricardo was annoyed by the lack of variety in the West End and on TV, so decided to do something about it. His London Varieties show has grown from a small East London club to a regular slot at the Leicester Square Theatre, and he makes the footage available online for free.

While the genre is undergoing something of a hip reinvention through the likes of La Clique and its spin-offs, Ricardo is an unashamedly old-fashioned vaudevillian. The tricks he does here wouldn’t have been out of place on a Seventies seaside spectacular. The 1870s, that is.

Indeed, his hero is Kara, a ‘gentleman juggler’ of the turn of last century – a well turned-out chap employing the sort of props a fellow might encounter in his society life: champagne bottles, walking canes, billiard cues, and so forth. Ricardo has set himself the task of mastering some of those historic tricks, sometimes with only the month between shows to learn them, and he showcases a couple tonight.

There’s a gag piece that was also once part of Tommy Cooper’s repertoire which he fumbles, even though he laughs it off with good grace, while the others showcase the dexterity of a man whose spent years plying his trade on the street. Ricardo isn’t, however, the most amazing or inventive juggler you’ll see – at least on tonight’s evidence – but he makes for an excellent curator of these shows, being both an enthusiastic barker with a firm but restrained showmanship and a passionate communicator of his love of the artform.

And while he cheerleads for the traditional, he can rely on his guests to bring something different; which is where Rod Laver comes in. Not the chap of Arena fame, he’s a satchel-jowled juggler who performs the most brilliantly memorable act with ping-pong balls you’ll see this side of Bangkok – firing them out of his mouth in the air, at the floor, at a basketball-style backboard, and at a ‘keyboard’ of gin bottles with various amounts of liquid in them, allowing him to perform a snatch of Beethoven.

It’s an act that’s almost impossible to do justice to by mere description; but it’s both funny – especially the ridiculous visual gag of seeing his cheeks puffed out by the balls – and impressive. Bravo!

If you’d had to hazard a guess as to which of tonight’s guests had emptied Laver’s gin bottles, you’d have to go for Jenny Eclair – blustering around like the sozzled, flirtatious, and outlandishly inappropriate aunt at a wedding. With her talk of ‘lady guttering’ and stories that start: ‘I was wanking this chap off in a bus shelter...’ you know subtlety and nuance is not her her strong point, but she blasts through on a dynamic force of personality.

It was ever thus, but as she gets older her lack of decorum is increasingly unseemly; and so all the more amusing. But her routine, including her own suburban take on the 50 Shades Of Grey novel – is not all bluster over content; she has some decent lines as well. A 20-minute set is perfect to get a blast of her outrageousness without wallowing excessively in the filth.

Twenty years ago you would never have envisaged Eclair on the same bill as Jimmy Cricket, but here we are... Cricket’s in an odd place for the modern world – not quite falling into the category of ironic throwback, nor quite sharp enough to be cutting it with the best of them.

He has some delightful flourishes. The way he subtly untangled the lead from the microphone stand – even though the mic was cordless – was inspired; his turn of phrase can be elegantly back-to-front; and his child-like silliness is infectious. Yet at least half the gags are of ancient Christmas cracker quality, and the best performance in the world couldn’t elevate them beyond ‘mildly amusing’ status. That said, the woman in front of me was in hysterics; and he has other gags that are not from kids’ joke books that are charmingly innocent, rather than just hoary.

Cricket also showed off some juggling skills of his own, culminating in a pun-laden showdown with Ricardo, evidence of the camaraderie of those who share in this vareity-revival ethos.

The show was closed with the energetically gymnastic So And So Circus, a double-act who set their incredible acrobatic displays to a Thirties swing number. After so many people juggling with items tonight; these two juggled with their bodies, throwing them around with abandon, and great agility.

Review date: 28 Jun 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Square Theatre

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