Variety is the spice of life, and it doesn’t come much spicier than the cabaret line-up in La Clique, an agglomeration of acts familiar to Edinburgh Festival Fringe-goers over the past few years but mostly new to London. One hundred and eight years since it opened, the Hippodrome has been reborn as a home of freakish spectacle.
Some of the acts are fairly astonishing, even if the show as a whole lacks any kind of accumulative momentum and is seriously, almost fatally, under-compered. Enjoyable and enthralling from moment to moment, an air of random accident prevails, and the lack of live music also ensures a Friday night is karaoke night sort of atmosphere.
Still, it is wonderful to be back inside a venue I had not visited since its days as the Talk of the Town, somehow managing not to penetrate Peter Stringfellow’s gaudy dance floor. The place is a riot of red plush curtains, nooks and crannies, multiple bars and the show is magically projected from the smallest of circular stages, audience crowded around on all sides.
The English Gents (two Australians) are a slick power balancing turn in bowler hats and Union Jack underpants, but their satirical point is repetitive and not really served by the strains of Vivaldi. Similarly, the joke of Mario the Freddie Mercury-style leather queen (except that he’s small and not all that sexy) wears thin after about ten seconds. And the much vaunted Miss Behave, a sword-swallowing diva in red latex, is a one-trick pony.
And then there’s Ursula Martinez, who takes all her clothes off (striptease is too technical way of describing what she does) and produces red handkerchiefs from surprising places. I preferred the Ukrainian hula hooper, Yulia Pikhtina, and the brilliant German acrobat, David O\'Mer, billed as “the Adonis in Denim”, who makes bath time in jeans a splashing water sport.
Best of all is Captain Frodo, invoking the daredevil escapades of Houdini himself (who broke out of his handcuffs here in 1904) in some really astonishing contortionism which involves dislocating his own left shoulder (I’ve done that, but not for money, and I nearly died of agony) and passing his full body through broken tennis rackets like the proverbial camel through the eye of a needle. Eye-watering stuff.
My favourite act, though, is Cabaret Decadanse with their puppet show girls, and it’s a measure of La Clique’s ragbag bill that their two spots are insufficient to their talent and give no idea of the sheer exhilarating blast of seeing their full performance, as I did in Edinburgh some years ago.