La Soiree is an Australian-born variety show with a distinguished provenance. It premiered in London in 2010, having evolved from co-creator Brett Haylock’s La Clique, an after-hours cabaret that debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2004.
Artists such as Ursula Martinez (with her infamous ‘Hanky-Panky’ strip tease) and Le Gateau Chocolat graced the small circular stage that La Soiree still features, with the audience arranged around the central space in rows.
Since its beginnings, La Soiree has progressed from the Spiegeltent to residencies at Glastonbury and opera houses around the world, exhibiting a shifting roster of artists and acrobats every night.
Now established in the West End for an extended run, the show still insists upon the rambunctious sauce that made its name but betrays some signs of tiredness. Instead of seeming slyly subversive, there’s a whiff of corporate entertainment about it – it’s slick festive entertainment for white-collar managers who want to feel a bit outre by ogling bendy girls in bras.
The acts themselves are of course expert, but sometimes there’s a kind of soullessness to proceedings. Though undoubtedly a gifted comic performer with a powerful voice, Amy G’s vaginal kazoo act seems stale (especially when compared to the inspired genital clowning that Martinez produced in years gone by). Her strutting flamenco dancer is a lisping, lascivious stereotype. The duo Daredevil Chicken starts out admirably gross with a banana mastication and mouth-catching routine. Costume-change trickery deviates into humorous penis-flapping pratfalls but the coarseness feels forced in later appearances.
Elsewhere, puppeteers Andre-Anne le Blanc and Stephan Quinlan have a somewhat troubling effect. It’s uncomfortable to watch white performers’ approximations of stereotypical black bodies – diva and soul singer – however well-meaning and celebratory it seems.
At its best, circus can create a conversation about trust and connection; it can move from muscular spectacle into the realm of metaphor. La Soiree’s structure demands maximum impact in restricted time, leaving little room for the development of physical poetry. A case in point, hand-to-hand performers Leon Fagbemi and Klodi provide an occasionally effortful duet that favours titillation and undercarriage presentation over acrobatic finesse.
However, Fagbemi’s double act with LJ Marles is inspired. Both men are nude but for a white towel – the capering clowning that ensues to preserve their modesty is exquisitely choreographed and performed with dexterous skill and comic timing. The nudge-wink raciness is leavened with a real sense of wit. On the aerial straps, Marles has a nonchalant grace that’s lovely to watch while, in the hoop, Lea Hines demonstrates a dazzling blend of boneless fluidity, graceful strength and speed. There are shining moments amid the faded originality.