Benet Catty Productions

La Soiree (OWE, 2014)

Nov 14, 2014

Southbank Centre

It's a paradox that despite being Europe's cultural capital, there can sometimes appear to be a lack of straight-forward "Entertainment" to be found in London. What do you do if you don't fancy the theatre but do want something live; if you want something escapist but not childish; or spectacular but not touristy?

This Christmas the answer is LA SOIREE, the international hit circus spectacular that is now celebrating ten years since it began at the Edinburgh Festival with a residency on the South Bank. It plays in a specially constructed circus tent, to be found amidst the Winter Wonderland of Christmas trees, lights and bars under the shadow of the London Eye.

Before this wondrous two hours, some of us thought that circus was an art form that existed in only really two forms: "Cirque De Soleil" and "Everyone Else." But the brilliant former is a Vegas spectacular for which you need to remortgage your house to buy a ticket and the latter is the kind of old-fashioned throwback that surely haven't changed for centuries. LA SOIREE kills that presumption stone dead.

The gimmick of LA SOIREE (and its creative producer Brett Haylock) is to be resolutely traditional in content but completely contemporary in style. As you take your seat the music is every circus brass band tune you've ever heard but once the show gets going people are doing acrobatics and contortions to eardrum-busting dance and rock numbers. No act lasts more than about 5 minutes. They come on, they do their thing and even before we've had time to applaud they've vanished and the next act has bounded on to the stage. And, crucially, the show is adult (there are a couple of strip teases and burlesque routines) without being rude and sexy without ever being sexual, appealing to a general audience without that meaning "families with kids". It would take a prude or a sourpuss of the first magnitude not to be awestruck by the fizz and pop and fun of a show that is more than the sum of its considerable parts.

In a bill consisting of a dozen or more acts, it feels unfair to single any out for special mention and any highlights are down to personal preference.

If you like posh city types in pinstripe suits doing one-handed handstands on each other's heads then The English Gents are probably going to do it for you.

If you're a chiropractor then Jonathan Burns, a contortionist who bends his way through a tennis racket while dressed like a fugitive from Wayne's World, will probably be the first among equals.

If you nurse fantasies about someone doing a strip tease while suspended upside down in mid air then Tanya Gagne will do the trick.

And if you're erotically minded, the reading of a Mills and Boon story by a John Waters lookalike in a bow tie (absolutely hilarious Asher Treleaven) will take you to heaven and back. I've rarely heard an audience laugh so hard so much.

Others, meanwhile, will be eager to see the legendary "Hanky Panky" routine from Ursula Martinez in which she makes a small red hanky disappear and re-appear from increasingly unusual places in the midst of a strip tease.

All of this is topped and tailed with the giant sad clown Puddles Pity Party singing Hallelujah (pleasing in its incongruity at the end of the show).

But one shouldn't forget Scotty The Blue Bunny bursting a huge balloon with his tightly lycra'd bottom, or David and Fofo making ping pong balls dance with their mouths, or the sexy-as-hell juggler Marcus Monroe whose wit is as sharp as the knives he juggles just metres from the audience. One can only assume Health and Safety make exemptions for circus acts.

LA SOIREE is one of those rare evenings out - in London or anywhere else - that it's impossible to imagine anyone not having a great time at. Office parties, first dates, anniversaries or an escape by oneself, all would be wonderfully fulfiled by LA SOIREE. It runs in London until January but, with ten years, four continents, fourteen countries and numerous awards behind it, we can be pretty sure that in a wider sense, LA SOIREE is here to stay.

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