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The Vaudevillains (Salford)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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A night at the Empire Music Hall is over before it begins for owner Charlie, who is dead before the curtain falls on the first number.  As we're guided through the show by our sinister smiling compère, it seems that each weird and wonderful act on the bill is hiding a gruesome past and a dirty secret, but which of them is guilty of this particular murder...?

There's a nervous tremor in the audience as the band warms up, before knife thrower Ray the Blade emerges from the audience with his glamorous assistant – closely followed by the sexy Cerberus sisters, the world's first Siamese 'striplets'.  The ensemble takes a little time to warm up after a late start, but the opening number Tonight at the Empire is neatly choreographed and there's a strong rapport in evidence between the susp-acts.  The entertainment value is doubled as the cast members switch deftly between showcasing their cabaret skills and supporting the band as versatile instrumentalists.  

Writer Oliver Lansley gives a fantastic comic performance as the compère, and the magic tricks seamlessly woven into the tragic Mephisto's song are enchanting to behold – but the highlight of the show is the charming, humorous and entirely wordless story of talented mime artist Gaston Gasteau (Philip Oakland).

The largely rhyming script is fast-paced – if rather unsubtle in places – although occasionally the overall impetus is lost between each highly-absorbing act.  Still the high quality and inventiveness of each performance – be it magic, ventriloquism, mime or trip-tease – is undeniable, making for a dark-humoured and memorable evening's entertainment.

- Harriet Chandler

(Reviewed at the Lowry)


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