The programme tells us that “Les Enfants Terribles theatre company is dedicated to producing new work that challenges, excites and entertains, whilst exploring different styles and theatrical techniques” and unfortunately in their latest production, The Vaudevillians at Charing Cross Theatre, Les Enfants Terribles (LET) rather miss their mark.
“Welcome to the Empire” a rag-tag group of vaudeville stars - a mime, a ventriloquist, a knife thrower and Siamese triplets - proclaim in the suitably musical hall group opening number. But with a cluttered stage allowing little room for effective choreography (good thing there isn’t much of this to be had) Charlie (owner of the venue) is found dead. So ensues the rather formulaic musical telling of each of the vaudevillians life stories, including their own dark secret (read motive for murder).
By far the strongest performances of the night comes from Philip Oakland as Gaston Gasteau who perfectly captures the classic white faced French mime and presents several delightful sequences including the setting alight of Charlie. Another strong performance comes from Anthony Spargo with his dummie Mr Punchy. His ventriloquism is suitably poor and his expressive face and languid body movements perfectly capturing the madness of Albert Frog.
Oliver Langsley’s script is fairly witty but could do with quickening - the first half an hour (of the 90-minute piece) seems a little self-indulgent and Langsley’s weak Compere needs more of the showman to really capture his audience.
One should applaud LET for trying something new but in this case they didn’t quite pull it off, not least because it isn’t clear what exactly they were going for. As burlesque becomes increasingly more mainstream they clearly aim to jump on the bandwagon, but rather than whole-heartedly grasping the style they muddy the waters with a vintage whodunit and do neither very well. Unforunately they find themselves trapped in a no-man’s land of rather tepid vaudeville.