The first time I saw Reuben Kaye perform he accused me of dressing like one of Rowan Atkinson’s characters: “Tweed jacket, and a pair of flat brown shoes – darling, you’ve come as Mr. Bean.”
When he held out the microphone, and I told him my name was Freddie, he laughed, “of course it is, I bet you drink your flat whites from a terracotta avocado,” then spent the rest of the evening insisting I would be going home with him.
Reuben has made quite a splash on the London cabaret circuit this year. Having won a string of awards on the Aussie and UK fringe, he brought his one-man show to the Soho Theatre this June. He was the recent host of The Service at Cafe de Paris, and is currently the emcee of the latest spectacular from the team behind La Soiree.
He doesn’t have quite as much time in Club Swizzle to pass through the audience, turning the heads of married men, and spotlighting fashion disasters like mine, which is a bit of a shame really because he’s sharp as a knife.
Instead he roars his way through a version of I Was Made for Loving You, before introducing Club Swizzle as a place with no names, no regrets, and no refunds. He introduces himself as someone who wasn’t hugged enough as a child, nor slapped enough as an adult. He’s a sweaty powerhouse with an incredible voice and the sharpest shoulder pads since Grace Jones circa 1981.
In the pre-show, cocktails are served from a neatly designed bar, which is swiftly transformed into a long, narrow runway when the show starts. Acrobatic troupe, The Swizzle Boys are soon tearing along it, hurling themselves up and over each other, cocktail shaker in hand, in order to serve Reuben a bizarre blend of gin and lemon juice, with an olive garnish.
Aside from the fact that the resulting martini is presumably undrinkable, this flaring/acrobatics sequence is a little laboured. The Swizzle Boys are extraordinarily talented, but at times it feels like there’s just too many of them to engage with.
Contrary to the theme, these aren’t dive bar mixologists either. They haven’t been confined to basement rooms, hardened by drink and fuelled by drugs, never emerging in daylight thanks to their gruelling shift patterns. The Swizzle Boys are good boys. Boys that dutifully do their sit ups every morning, and make their mums proud by not drinking their lives away in Camden.
It is this lack of dangerous excess that lets the show down. Club Swizzle should be bad for you. It should be so bad you can’t keep away. An illicit addiction that you just can’t kick. It should be naughty and cruel and addictive. But it doesn’t quite hit that high.
All of the performers are outstanding however. As Reuben says – the talent is dripping off the stage like perspiration. Yammel Rodriguez performs an aerial hoop act which invokes all the heat and passion of the duende. Hanging in the air, her arms outstretched in fierce, desperate longing, it’s a performance channelled directly from the women of Lorca.
Laurie Hagen’s twist on classic burlesque is beautifully executed too. In her drunk burlesque, and burlesque backwards routines she displays a precise physicality that puts one in mind of Dickie Beau. Acutely well observed physicality, delivered with humour, style, and dexterity.
After the break, Reuben invites two members of the audience on stage to compete in a pole dancing competition. It’s a great idea, and the audience lap it up. But when we cheer for our winner Reuben awards the prize to both of them.
It’s a bit of a cop out, and underlines the fact that although the show is good, it doesn’t turn on you like a drunk might. Like Reuben turned on me that first night. It doesn’t shower you with attention, and affectionate teasing, then punish you with cruelty, before ultimately pursuing you for sex. The Jekyll and Hyde alcoholic that loves you dearly, and then hurts you for loving them back. We never quite see that nasty side, and so ultimately it leaves us wanting something with a bit more of a kick.
Club Swizzle is on until 26 August 2018 at the Roundhouse. Click here for more details.