Originally published on London Box Office
When you walked down London’s Southbank during the summer months, it was hard not to see the circus tent set up just by the London Eye, marking the start of the Southbank’s London Wonderground summer season. Once we get into the winter months, now walking down the Southbank people are beginning to see the Christmas market stalls being set up to mark the opening of the Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival. This year though, the circus tent has remained and this ‘Spiegeltent’ is playing host to La Soirée for those winter months. Mulled cider and acrobatics, sounds like a pretty brilliant combination!
La Soirée seems to be a merge between an acrobatics show and an Ann Summers party; trapeze artists shed clothes whilst performing incredible feats of acrobatics whilst burlesque dancers hide behind little red handkerchiefs. Of course, no event such as this is complete without a latex-clad blue bunny eating a carrot menacingly. So I went along to gasp, cheer and be amazed at the feats of theatricality in the big top.
I have to admit, I went in feeling a bit sceptical. Having seen the crème de la crème of circus-based acts, Cirque du Soleil, on the stage a number of times I wondered how any other troupe could compare. But looking around the circus tent I was happy to see that this looked a bit more authentic and traditional – the show took place in the centre of the tent on a stage only a few feet from the audience and the acts frequently performed their tricks in the crowds to get the audience involved. Each act performed once in each half and most showed different circus skills which made for some really entertaining variety.
My favourite performance came from the Swedish male and female duo David and Fofo, who performed a combination of hand balancing acts and aerial trapeze acrobatics whilst firing ping pong balls at each other from certain orifices. Whilst this might sound a bit like another act more commonly found in Bangkok, it was actually incredibly impressive how accurate the pair were at shooting and catching whilst performing some really incredible feats in the air of whilst precariously balanced on each other. The main thing I loved about this act was that it seemed pretty dangerous and I couldn’t quite believe how close the audience were to this act; only a couple of feet from the circular stage, so if something went wrong in one of those aerial tricks one of the performers could easily have been sent flying into the third row. Of course that sense of danger cleverly adds to the suspense and the audience reaction.
The other act that kept me captivated in both performances was Jess Love. Performing some pretty impressive hula hoops tricks in one half and Fred Astaire-inspired tap dancing-cum-skipping in the other, the thing I loved most about her performances was the extra personality that was injected into the act. Initially she came across as shy and a bit nervous, but the acts built into a frenzy of tricks, sass and cute as a button cheeky burlesque which by the end had the audience on their feet cheering and clapping along. I am a huge fan of burlesque and she was an incredibly empowering performer. It also didn’t hurt that one of the songs she performed to was a jazz version of ‘Crazy in Love’ by Beyoncé (a particular favourite of mine) – I have been searching for the version of that song ever since on the internet!
The whole show wasn’t perfect though, in this slightly fantastical and wacky world of cabaret you are bound to get some avant-garde performances. In this show this came in the form of Scotty the Blue Bunny – as it says on the tin he was a ‘comedian’ dressed in a latex blue bunny outfit who ate carrots, sat on oversized balloons and wandered round the audience in high heels. I think it was meant to be funny, but someone should have told the audience that because most of them forgot to laugh. There was also a clown by the name of Puddles, who wandered up onto the stage in a melancholy fashion to sing some pretty depressing songs whilst touching himself inappropriately. Whilst a good singer, I have to say I was distracted and put off by his overactive hands, enough said about that one.
But over two hours I cheered, gasped and clapped as any audience member would at some of the really spectacular acrobatics that went on. The show wasn’t Cirque du Soleil, but it didn’t try to be compete in that way – this show had soul, comedy and an ‘adults-only’ family feel about it. It was overpriced, but a great way to keep the Southbank winter festival entertaining through these cold months.