After a successful run on the South Bank this time last year, the phenomenon that is La Soirée makes a triumphant return to the Roundhouse in Camden, offering a familiar but no less glorious mix of comedy, cabaret and circus acts.
The Roundhouse is the perfect space for a show of this nature, its circular auditorium helping to create a suitably circus-like atmosphere. The venue staff too do a great job of creating a true sense of occasion: a jazz band is on hand to serenade the audience as they enter the foyer, popcorn vendors offer their wares from fairground-style trolleys, and appropriately adorned ushers see you to your seats.
Many of the performers on the bill have been with the troupe for a while and will be familiar to those who’ve seen this show or its predecessor La Clique; as perennial favourite, Mario, Queen of the Circus, puts it in his routine: ‘it’s pretty much the same shit but we’ve given it a French name”. Yet his Freddie Mercury inspired act, which opens and closes the show, seems as fresh and entertaining as ever.
Key to its appeal is the mixture of acts on offer. Some perform astounding physical feats, such as Yulia Pykhtina’s mesmerising hoola-hoop display, and duo Hugo Desmarais and Katherine Arnold’s sexually charged aerial act. Others, such as the tuxedo and top hat clad Nate Cooper, combine co-ordination skills and cross-dressing, in this case juggling machetes while bouncing on a pogo stick in high heels. Physical comedian Mooky is a real highlight, enlisting an unsuspecting member of the public to assist in her first piece of ‘proper’ acting. The result is both endearing and hilarious, as she coaxes the increasingly embarrassed victim into performing all manner of humiliating activities. Special guest David Armand ensures that you will never listen to Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ in the same way again, with his wonderfully inventive interpretive dance.
Not everything worked quite so well. There was perhaps a bit too much of diva Le Gateau Chocolat’s burlesque covers of stadium anthems. The Skating Willers, a duo who are retiring from the stage after this production having racked up 30 years of performing together, are also not quite as dazzling as some of their co-stars, but their extraordinary energy more than compensates.
La Soirée has a festive feel without being sickeningly seasonal, and offers perhaps the most consistently entertaining night out in London. The audience are encouraged to enter and exit the auditorium at any time during the performance to refuel – drinking is very much a part of the show, we are told. The entire experience feels rather glamorous and playful, and as the crowd get to their feet for a collaborative musical finale, vaudeville seems alive and well once more. Go, and be delighted – just don’t sit in the first few rows if you are less than keen on the idea of audience participation of a rather perilous variety. On second thoughts, you aren’t really safe anywhere, so you might want to wear sensible underwear.