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Black Cat: Bohemia review at Underbelly Festival, London – ‘moments of enchantment’

Scene from Black Cat: Bohemia at Underbelly, London

Black Cat Cabaret’s mistress of ceremonies, Frisky (Laura Corcoran) introduces her children of the night through pop melodies reworked as rich, filthy jazz.

The atmosphere is more back streets of Montmartre than Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge – Frisky’s voice drips with sequinned sleaze. The Knaves (Nicolas Jelmoni and LJ Marles) delight with their gymnastic, high leaping comic routines. Their characterisation is bang on, cavorting acrobatic rascals in patched trousers who might pick your pocket or steal your heart.

There are moments of enchantment from the rest of the cast but the Parisian bohemian spirit is quickly dispensed with. Without that coherent refrain, there is little to distinguish Sean Kempton’s direction from other circus cabaret showcases despite the artistry of the performers.

Charlotte O’Sullivan’s poise during a pair acro-dance routine is a perfect ten. Hayley Harvey-Gomez’s bacchanalian priestess fire-eating burlesque will have queues round the block to be sacrificed at her altar. Yet, they don’t belong to the poetic world of free-flowing absinthe and dreams Frisky promised.

Circus is a risky business. The crowd are so fired up by the tumbling entrance of Leon Fagbemi, ‘The Maestro’ they assume his walking off-stage is a deliberate suspense builder. Sadly, a dodgy landing see’s not only Fagbemi immediate exit but the rest of Black Cat Cabaret having to significantly re-choreograph the show on the fly. It’s testament to the performers’ skill and solidarity that it’s an almost seamless recovery. The question is how much the individual acts customised their routines to blend into Bohemia in the first place.

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Moments of enchantment enliven an evening of Bohemian circus cabaret