Tag Archives: cabaret

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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Theatre Review: Siro-A (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

unnamed (1)Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

Returning to London with a new show, Siro-A continue to phenomenally push the boundaries of technology and theatre, taking them beyond the standard that they themselves trail-blazed.

Overview

A miming, clowning, magic, acrobatic, and visual spectacular at the forefront of theatre technology, humour, and imagination.

Concept

Siro-A is like nothing you’ll have seen before. Even their tag-line of being “Japan’s answer to the Blue Man Group” doesn’t really do them any justice. This “technodelic entertainment” venture is all about combining lights, sound, images, and physical performance into a show that defies imagination and dazzles the senses. Essentially an exhilarating digital circus, they’ve met with rave reviews across the globe. Indeed, this time last year saw me gushing over their previous show, with a glowing 5* endorsement. So, already knowing just how good they are, the question for me was how they would be able to better the extraordinary bar they had set last year.

Thankfully, they’ve managed to outdo themselves, even managing to produce a show that contains a majority of brand spanking new content. Whilst toying with 3D projections still forms the basis of the show, where Siro-A have outdone themselves is by excelling in experimenting with new mediums that weren’t in their last production.

Particularly, there is are whole segments that utilises live video and video looping and modulation techniques. Their approach to these segments carries the same magnificent sense of invention and creativity that is inherent in everything that they do. Even though breaking new ground, it’s just as exciting as and meticulously executed as their tried and tested material and are as surprising and as astonishing as everything else.

Furthermore, there is a wonderful balance between humour and aesthetics. The more comic segments are wonderfully wry, such as the typographical/Bretchian treatment of popular films that’s an absolute hoot, as well as a face-pace and tongue-in-check montage of Japanese culture that’s as if Terry Gilliam had worked with the Osaka Tourist Board. But there are also moments of sheer beauty and high-aestheticism that are literally awesome and stupendously arresting. “Peacock” is an exquisite rainbow-clad ballet that is as mind-bogglingly kaleidoscopic as it is sumptuously psychedelic.

Production & Performance

Whilst I’m aware that my usual format deals with two elements individually, for this show it’s really difficult to separate them. Given the rigid technicality of the show, everything about what’s done on stage, from Daichi Norikane’s video and Kentaro Homma’s music to the cast’s movement and electronic interplay, has to be precise and meticulously executed. Without a complete harmony between all these elements, nothing would work or come off effectively. Yet despite the huge margin for error, Siro-A pulls off a miraculously slick concord. The only criticism that I could possibly give is that it’s impossible to get it right 100% of the time. A box might be narrowly an inch to far to the left or right, making you notice just how exact the entire production needs to be. Given that they don’t have the grace of a larger venue to make these less noticeable (something which I picked up on with their last show), their herculean effort is as close to perfection as you’re ever going to get, getting it right at least 97% (if not more) of the time.

The cast are also a lot more athletic and energetic, adding high octane acrobatics into segments old and new to keep the adrenaline pumping and audience’s jaws permanently on the floor. Given just how precise every single movement has to be in the show, you quickly find that Keiji Miya, Fumiya, Yohei, and Toshiya Arai are all unreasonably gifted physical performers of the highest pedigree.

As well as reaching out to incorporate new electric mediums, the Siro-A troupe have incorporated more interactive segments with the audience too. Whilst it might seem like the usual slightly awkward audience participation skit that you find in family shows, it’s a marvellous surprise to find that all of it is used and inputted into the technology of the show itself, making it joyously far more than meets the eye and making you a part of their world.

But the real joy is that the result of the show on a whole is how it obliterates the line between reality and virtual reality as you end up being unable to figure out where the tangible ends and the technological beings. It’s as if GameBoy cartridges were illicit drugs: exciting, audacious, and perception-bending.

Verdict

Adults and kids alike cannot failed to be wowed by this astonishing extravaganza. Literally awesome, and proof that magic still exists in a digitally mundane world.

[youtube http://youtu.be/yHsaXQUPheE]

Siro-A plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, WC2H 7BX, until 11 January 2015. Tickets are £20 (concession and family tickets available). To book, visit http://leicestersquaretheatre.com. For more information about the group, check out their official YouTube channel.


Cabaret Review: Briefs: The Second Coming (London Wonderground, London)

Evil Hate Monkey expertly plays with Captain Kidd's ring! Photograph: Courtesy of Roy Tan.

Evil Hate Monkey expertly plays with Captain Kidd’s ring! Photograph: Courtesy of Roy Tan.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

Outrageous, arousing, and utterly gob-smacking. Rethink everything you thought you ever knew about circus and burlesque, because you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Overview

Aussie performance troupe return to London Wonderground with their show Briefs: The Second Coming, after a successful stint at Glastonbury, with several new and rebooted elements. A fusion of circus, cabaret, drag, and burlesque, it’s the most surprising, sexy, and scandalous show the capital has ever seen.

Production

Everything is as slick, glitzy, and sumptuous as you could ever imagine. For starters, the costumes really are as show-stopping as the acts themselves: this is by no means the bargain bin at Anne Summers. The outfits are as intricate as they are provocative, and impress as much as they titillate. Yet the attire is just the first glimpse of a high-end and meticulous production that is hidden behind the show’s anarchic energy and inglorious affront.

Particularly, there is a real attention and embrace of aesthetics here that take this far beyond being a mere pumped-up peep show. Everything from UV osterich feathers, to well executed lighting design, really augment the acts. The performers themselves already have an intrinsic sense of visual artistry in what they do. But the production just makes these into even more stunning moments, turning them into gasp-out-loud acts of daring debauchery.

A tiny criticism is that some of the interludes (particularly in covering set changes) means the pace can sometimes drop too quickly from heart-pounding sexual octane or dizzying acrobatics, leaving you a little bewildered and agitated as it’s an awkward come down. However, these bits of padding thankfully have their own sense of joy that make them feel as integral to the show as the more rehearsed and climactic sequences.

One other criticism is that there is one moment that probably takes good/bad taste a little too far, and is certainly not something that is for the weak of stomach. Whilst merely attending a male drag burlesque show means you’re not one to be easily offended, one particular scene (not giving too much away) does push comfort zones a little too much; some may find it rather unnecessary even within the pervy pretext of the show. But as long as you view it as outlandish and risqué as the rest of the evening, you’ll still be able to at least produce a shriek and a guffaw between the dry-retching!

Performers

Every performer in the show brings something as unique and amazing as the next. But as a troupe, they bristle with a filthy wit and eroticism that is unmatched by anything else that you’ll have ever seen. Hostess Fez Faanana/Shivannah is as sassy a drag queen compère at they come, adding a ridiculous camp and sharp glamour to the proceedings as she expertly works the crowd. Dallas Dellaforce’s drag interludes are also salacious and shocking, making “Priscilla” look tacky and tame by comparison.

Physical performers Captain Kidd, Evil Hate Monkey, Thom Worrell, and Louis Biggs are all also at the prime of their talent, absolutely wowing you in such a manner that they take you from behind by complete surprise. There are moments where your jaws will drop with amazement (or cringe in disbelief) at just how astonishing their skills are. Even if you’ve seen these kind of circus acts before, these boys pull out all the stops, raising the bar and executing some genuinely unique and gob-smacking tricks that really makes this a superlative spectacle. You just can’t wait to see what feat they’re going to pull next as well as what item of clothing will disappear with it. Particular mention must go to Captain Kidd, who’s “birdbath” grand finale takes your breath away, whilst simultaneously making you literally wet with excitement (especially if you’re in the first few rows).

These are also a band of performers who are sexy and know it. I know it’s a little cheap to so openly lust over performers in a review, but if a burlesque night doesn’t make your groins stir with delight then it’s not doing its job properly. And, by Jove, do these boys know how to get your blood pumping to those more intimate areas. They revel in the knowing fact that they are some of the most achingly gorgeous performers on the circuit, and do their best to expertly tease as they do dazzle. But even then, they play with both being cheeky and humorous by sending up traditional burlesque with steamy satire, as well as pushing the modern boundaries of the genre. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at a yo-yo again without getting at least a semi!

Verdict

Put this altogether and there were moments where I didn’t know whether to applaud wildly, laugh, be reviled, or cross my legs! Hot, haughty, and hilarious, this a mesmerising kaleidoscope of sleaze and mind-blowing performances unlike anything else. I’ve never wanted to run away to the circus so badly! #woof

[youtube http://youtu.be/Ft7WxWbON2s]

Briefs: The Second Coming plays at the London Wonderground, London, SE1 8XX, until 28 September 2014. Tickets are £16.50-£21.50. To book, visit www.londonwonderground.co.uk.


Camden Fringe Review: Go! A Mini Disaster Musical (Phoenix Artist Club, London)

GoRating: **

In A Nutshell

Clichéd characters, bewildering musical numbers, and tawdry innuendo distract from moments of the otherwise nuanced pathos of a powerful songstress.

Overview

Flight GO999 takes off, but never makes it to its intended destination. Seven characters on board the flight, both passengers and crew, relate to us in song their lives, aspirations, and libidos.

I feel quite bad about giving this such a bad review, especially as cabaret star and creator of this piece, Nikki Aitken, allowed me to review the production after I’d contacted her directly to do so as the blurb sparked my interest. However, I can’t bring myself other than to be honest about this show, so here goes.

Book

After Mile High – The Musical I have been left thinking that there is very little more that anyone can prise out of airline comedies. Unfortunately, Aitken has not managed to make me disparage this opinion.

Characters are generally clichéd: posh English gent it posh and English, loud American gal is American and loud, and oversexed “mincing” gay air steward is still the irritating stereotype that we’re apparently still defaulting to for comedy. The attempt at humour mostly falls flat. For the most part it relies of a few snippets of innuendo that’s a cross between some budget Pam Ann and a Great British Bake Off soggy bottom. Otherwise, we’re expected to find jokes in the characters that are over the top, unbelievable, and less than compelling.

Yet there are a few flits of depth here and there. Aitken’s momentary pause to explore the failed relationship and charisma of said English gent is actually quite sweet and enchanting, with traces of nuanced pathos. As is another character’s exasperation about her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is pursued with quirk and interest: a genuinely human look at living with such a condition. But otherwise, there’s little to go on that engages. It seems Aitken works best when she’s not trying to be funny and actually trying to find a degree of humanity in what she’s doing.

The plot development is scant and implausible, lacking drama or drive. It makes a quick landing before it even gets a chance to take off. Even the salvation from the mild peril our characters are placed in doesn’t really lead to much or instigate any substantial arousal.

Songs

Much like the book, the songs are mostly misses with a few hits. There’s a boringly burlesque song about a baggage-handler in love, a bewildering romp through the airline’s safety demonstrating, and a Black Box a la Barry White soul number. But again, coinciding with the flits of character exploration as mentioned above, there are a couple of solid songs that reflect a more pensive and insightful side to Aitken’s intelligence. There are even moments of musical originality, in the form of melodic quips and less than ordinary turns of phrases, marking Aitken out as someone who has talent somewhere among all this.

Performance

Aitken certainly has a voice. When she lets rip you really know about it. It’s her singing talent that’s the most sure-fire thing about this production: a testament to the reputation she’s garnered.

However, her ability to portray multiple characters in quick succession doesn’t measure up to her vocal prowess. She doesn’t have the physical acumen to create the tangible detail that would define and personify the characters she’s trying to channel. At some points, it wasn’t clear who she’s playing, not helped by the fact that sometimes Aitken would remain stationary through several characters changing only her voice, rather than trying to embed herself in the spaces that her characters would otherwise be in. If the personality of the characters didn’t endear enough to begin with, it’s hard enough to believe that they have manifested in the theatre space.

Verdict

It’s a real shame that Go! A Mini Disaster Musical hasn’t worked as there is evidence that Aitken could achieve something much better. But whilst writing comedy musical theatre may not be her calling, her powerful voice, small peeks at a keen poignancy, and moments of musical originality, means that she won’t be a performer as forgettable as this show.

Go! A Mini Disaster Musical runs at the Phoenix Artist Club, London, WC2H 8BU, until 21 August 2014 as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Tickets are £10 (concessions available). To book, visit www.camdenfringe.com.


Theatre Review: Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Cheeky monkeys! Marcus Reevers (left) and David Malcolm (right) as Dr Von Whackoff and Boobie Shevalle. Picture: Georgie Gillard. Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Cheeky monkeys! Marcus Reevers (left) and David Malcolm (right) as Dr Von Whackoff and Boobie Shevalle. Picture: Georgie Gillard. Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Rating: ****

Innuendo and smut have long been the staple of British humour. Think seaside postcards, The Goodies, and Barbara Windsor’s camping trip. As a country that has given the world “Ooh, Matron!” and sweet transvestites galore, Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens continues this grand tradition of finding fun in being very very naughty.

Since its first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1995, the show, written by Charlotte Mann and Michael Fidler with music by Jonathan Croose and Robin Forrest, has gained cult status and a fanatic following. Therefore, this off-West End revival has been much anticipated and is incredibly appreciated, especially with Leanne Jones among its cast, who won the Critics Circle “Best Newcomer” award for her role as Tracey Turnblad in Hairspray. 

Directed by well known choreographer Stuart Saint, his sturdy portfolio of cabaret and variety means he knows exactly what this show needs, and how to do it well. He’s made every effort to ensure the show is as fun, energetic, and slick as possible, but also understands the need for informality and audience intimacy for the show: this is a wild affair that is notorious for plenty of audience interaction. The musical doesn’t pretend to be Lloyd-Webber or Sondheim, so making this more Madame Jojo’s than the Palladium is just what Dr Von Whackoff ordered. Saint turns the small “lounge” space into a convincingly dingy, gaudy, and sleazy nightclub, complete with catwalk, glitter balls, and a dancing pole. The audience sit on slinky leather poofs (steady on) as if you’re actually the intergalactic audience at Saucy Jack’s. Furthermore, even before the show starts, Saint employs a support act in the guise of ravishingly voiced Leanne Osbourne, to help the audience relax, limber up, and get into the mood.

As for the show itself, it’s absolutely mad. If you ever imagined what it would be like if Kenneth Williams did cocaine with Jane Fonda, this would be it. Although often compared to The Rocky Horror Show, it’s actually more like a sci-fi B-Movie crash-landing into a panto in 1969; campy, outrageous, retro, and unabashed. You’ve got everything from drag and effeminate German stereotypes, to the cast dry-humping bubblewrap, and even a bit of light lesbian necrophilia. Not to mention more glitter and glitz than you can shake your disco-stick at.

But for all its double entendres, single entendres, and general WTF-ness, it’s actually a well written and very knowing show. Those who are more familiar with popular musical and/or classic disco hits will pick up on the torrent of cheeky little references and in-jokes throughout. These go to show that Mann and Fidler are a pair of intelligent and well versed – if not just a tad shameless – writers. But it’s also well-paced and never runs away with itself, which, given the hedonistic and crazed nature of the show, is actually quite impressive. There really isn’t a weak moment or a scene that’s just a bit “too much” to grumble about.

As for the songs themselves, they’re incredibly catchy and aplomb with fun. You’ll be humming and dancing “All I Need is Disco” and “Glitter Boots Saved My Life” for days afterwards.

The cast are also truly behind the show, despite how ridiculous it is. There is a sense of wild abandon, frivolity, and talent that comes from each and every member. Jones, though downsizing from the Shaftsbury Theatre to something you can barely swing a dead vole in, takes to the production like a fish to water. Her voice and demeanour has the power, class, and sass worthy of Space Vixen, Bunny Lingus. Further more, actor and drag artist Marcus Reeves excels in his role as the randy and limp-wristed Dr Von Whackoff, effortlessly managing to consistently upstage his rather dashing wig, and Lisa Gorgin is sensational as the busty, lusty, but dangerous Chesty Prospects.

But it’s Ralph Bogard as Saucy Jack himself who really steals the show. A veritable ringmaster of this outer space peep show-cum-circus, he chimes to the tone of melodrama villain perfectly. His comic timing, and rapport and interaction with the audience, all feel perfectly spontaneous. He performs Act I finale “Tortured Plaything” with knock-out panache and power that really marks him as an actor to watch, as well as showing what he’s really capable of after his involvement in the rather unfortunate Mile High: The Musical.

The only issue with the show is the sound. Unfortunately, the equipment in the “lounge”, being such a tiny space, means it’s not quite adequate for the task at hand. With the cast sharing a number of microphones and singing along to a backing track, but with un-amplified dialogue, the balance is not quite there, meaning at points you loose some of the words to the songs. It begs for a live band and everybody radio-mic’d up. But then, the intimacy of the venue and the how this production is set up is really something special, and it would be a real shame to loose what ultimately adds to the whole experience. Style only just about covers for substance, but if it wasn’t for such fantastic material, this would be a serious issue.

But other than that, like a fetish number from nowhere, this is a scream of a night out; a supreme guilty pleasure that will leave you whooping, laughing, and begging for more. It’s time to strap on your glitter boots and book a space shuttle to Frottage III: the Space Vixens are waiting.

Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, until 15 September 2013. Tickets are £18.50. To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.