Cabaret Review: Sheila Simmonds’ Christmas Cracker (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Richard Rhodes as Sheila Simmonds.

Richard Rhodes as Sheila Simmonds.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

A frantic festive frolic from our Aussie Queen of home shopping. The Christmas party you wish you could throw!

Overview

Richard Rhodes, also known as Cookie Monstar, brings his other drag creation, Sheila Simmonds, to the Leicester Square Theatre for a festive romp to end all festive romps. Party games, competitions, celebrity guests, and songs agogo, this sassy songstress, storyteller, and #busylady brings all the Christmas cheer to the yard.

Structure/Writing

Rhodes, in collaboration with Stuart Saint, has created a night of true variety: a one-lady music hall tour de force. The evening goes from camp indulgences to audience participation skits, all with meticulous kitsch aplomb. It means that no-one ever really tires of a particular sketch or skit before it moves swiftly onto the next. You’ve got everything from 1990s family entertainment throwbacks, to salacious (and sometimes beautifully blasphemous) Christmas tales, songs, canapes, prizes, a disco-dancing hunk, and even a spot of roller skating.

Most surprising about the show isn’t the wonderful tongue-in-cheek shocks that pepper Sheila’s act, but that, in comparison to the sin-sational Sleeping Bootybilled immediately before and other drag shows, Sheila Simmonds’ Christmas Cracker is surprisingly wholesome. Even though there’s plenty of cheek and innuendo, what Rhodes does marvellously in this show is bottle a wonderful sense of joy, celebration, and community that comes with the season. Yes, it’s more adult than Boxing Day lunch with the grandparents (or so I’d hope!) but the smut is second place to the abundance of old school festive fun and reminisce. Each step of the way, the show is an exquisitely gift-wrapped hoot.

There is also a great sense of satire here too, especially in the right royal send up of home shopping channels. This wit also runs through rapaciously fun songs such as “The Old Pound Shop in Croydon”, where you can’t help but laugh and smile from deely bopper to deely bopper as a result of Sheila’s scathing observations and knowing nods.

Performance

Rhodes is a superlative cabaret performer, having the honour of being the first male to be awarded the title of “Forces Sweetheart” for his work entertaining British Troops as Cookie Monstar. As Sheila, the same wit and warmth is still present, just dressed instead in an Australian accent and lots of pink polyester. As is critical with any cabaret act, Sheila is able to riff off the audience’s energy and interactions with inspired moments of improvisation and spontaneous wit, making them as just as crucial a part of the show as the scandalous quips and the Werther’s Originals. You can’t help but be charmed from start to finish by Sheila’s ineffable personality. Furthermore, Rhodes must be congratulated on the excessive energy he pours into Sheila and the show, both in charisma and physicality, never flagging and always exuding a brilliant sense of humour and hospitality.

Verdict

A Christmas variety show so glamorous and lovable it makes Kylie look second rate. A perfectly bonza capture of traditional Christmas mayhem with a twist of camp and cheeky flare. Expertly entertaining. #loveit.

Sheila Simmonds’ Christmas Cracker plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2B 7BX, on selected dates until 3 January 2015. Tickets are £15 (concessions available). To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.

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