Tag Archives: Stuart Saint

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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Panto Review: Sleeping Booty (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Up and under! Leon Scott (centre) between Paula Masterton legs. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Up and under! Leon Scott (centre) between Paula Masterton’s legs. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Rating: ****

In A Nutshell

Filthy, puerile & disgusting, you couldn’t ask for a more expertly debauched adult panto. Laugh? I nearly wet myself!

Overview

Despite allusions to Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent, don’t expect there to be much correlation between the fairy story and this panto. Exotic dancer Booty! wants to make it big. In fact, she’s destined to “take” the mystical golden schlong and thrust herself to stardom in the Pantoverse. With the help of her fairy godmother, Fairy Muff, and foppish Prince Willie Wontie, they’re on their way to achieve just that. However, Muff’s evil sister, Mangelina, has other plans.

Miss Dusty 'O' as Mangelina. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Miss Dusty ‘O’ as Mangelina. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Writing

Stuart Saint returns to the Leicester Square Theatre for a third year running with an adult panto offering. This time, instead of reviving Dick! for a hat-trick, Saint has penned a brand new panto. His previous experience with Dick! has certainly steeled him for creating the most shocking and outrageous pantos the capital has to offer.

The bulk of the narrative is mostly wallowing in absolute filth with an obscene amount of joyous knowing kitcshe. There’s everything from blow-up dolls, dildos, twerking, dogging, to some brilliantly revolting applications of “sexual detritus”, all aimed and shot directly at the audience’s faces without mercy, and it’s a hoot! NOTHING is sacred and this is definitely not for the easily shocked, the overly sensitive, or the sexually queasy. Even Operation Yewtree, as woefully inappropriate as it is to poke fun at, doesn’t escape Saint’s no-holes-barred assault. You’ll feel guilty for laughing, but you won’t really care. But as tongue-in-cheek as it all is, Saint’s application of satire, unexpected and unprecedented, provides as much a raucous source of fun as his puerile and salacious gags.

However, what actually makes this a great panto is not the filth (as brilliant as it is), but everything else. The filth is actually very mindfully held back and rationed, being far from going from one cock-gag to the next, leaving room for variety and never squeezing dry the sexual-comedy juices. If anything it’s an expert panto. All the familiar elements are there, from the sing-a-long to the “it’s behind you” moment, all executed with as much child-like aplomb as any more family orientated show. In fact, the best moments of the panto is the times when it pays homage to or sends up the “traditional” formula and genre. The “old school pantomime”/chase scene had my cheeks (the ones on my face) moist with tears of laughter, chortling with as much, if not more, glee than any quip about fanny farts or Jimmy Saville.

The only issues is that some of the moments get drawn out a bit too long, losing comic momentum in doing so and not being as tight as other parts of the panto. Furthermore, whilst Saint has done his best to make sure that as many of the panto “requirements” are ticked off the list as possible, some feel a little more shoe-horned in compared to others and/or don’t bring in as big a laugh in comparison.

However, in essence, once you strip away the explicit references, it’s an excellent panto: just as good, if not better, than anything Babs could conjure up from her career. Ultimately, without the presence of children, the stage is ripe for the taking by twisted-minded grown-ups, and Saint pulls an absolute heist!

Paula Masterton as Fairy Muff. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Paula Masterton as Fairy Muff. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Direction & Production

The tiny lounge space might be seen as a hindrance, but with a bit of ingenuity and a smear of fairy dust, Saint and his team have done a wonderful job. It’s a simple stage adorned with ivy and fairy lights, with all but two entrances. The lighting, (low-budget) special effects, and music is enough to let the masters on the stage work their magic. Indeed, the entire production is just a splattering of scene and wonder that enables the talent involved to shine through. As much as technological spectaculars and outlandish sets are pulls for other pantos, Saint and his team have made sure that the essence of what makes a panto – the writing and performance itself – is what shines through, demonstrating that you don’t need a ridiculous budget or big names to make that happen.

A very special mention must also go to Miss Dusty ‘O”s costume designer, putting Ru Paul to absolute shame!

The cast of 'Sleeping Booty!'. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

The cast of ‘Sleeping Booty!’. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Cast

Saint could not have pulled together a better company to do this. Combing a mix of cabaret performers, professional actors, and comedians, all take like a duck to water to panto. Miss Dusty ‘O’, the show’s top billing, blends drag banter and panto patter perfectly to become a villain not to be reckoned with. Every punch-line is delivered with precision timing and tone, but most wonderfully it’s her spontaneity and cast-away quips that really make her a comic supernova.

Leon Scott as Prince Willie Wontie is also an absolute dream. Even though he’s a professionally trained serious actor (he’ll be in Shakepseare’s Globe’s upcoming production of Othello), it doesn’t stop him from being a tightly packed and bulging package of panto perfection. He’s got the energy and the tone that panto requires down to a “t”. Not to mention he’s distractingly handsome and probably the hottest prince (not so) charming ever!

The same praises can be said for the other cast members too. Rachel Torn as Mangelina’s side-kick, Tit-Bit, is outrageously saucy; Alice Marshall’s Booty! is brilliantly brash; Paula Masterton’s Fairy Muff is deliciously deviant; and Alexander Beck as You Look Familiar is a slick tour de farce.

They all bounce energy and delight off each other, often causing themselves to laugh on stage. They embody the very essence of panto: fun, silly, and care-free, and it absolutely rubs off onto the entire audience.

Verdict

Leave the kids at home, shut the blinds, and lube up your funny bone for a panto so dirty and hilarious it makes Ann Summers look like the Disney Store.

Sleeping Booty! plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, until 17 January 2015. Tickets are £22. To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.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.