“The same shit with a new name,” you’re told early on at La Soirée. But what glorious shit it is. When circus phenomenon La Clique rebranded in 2010, it kept all the mesmerising showmanship and exhilarating thrills that made it the leading force of last decade’s variety resurgence. Back for a Christmas season at the Roundhouse, it remains a must-see.
Two dazzling new acts grace the bill. Juggling knives on a pogo stick (in high heels, no less), slapstick sensation Nate Cooper laughs in the face of danger as an entranced audience screams and gasps in anticipation. German acrobats Chris & Iris teem with contagious buoyancy, as much for their effortless balancing feats as for their sweet, boyish charisma. I might be in love with them. Neither act disappoints next to soon-to-be-retiring variety legends The Skating Willers. Roller-skating on a trampoline, the duo shines in a string of daredevil exploits that test the nerves of performers and public alike.
La Soirée shows should be marked as gravity-free zones, especially when the breathtaking English Gents are on. For his Singin’ in the Rain boylesque parody, Hamish McCann uses nothing but a firm handgrip to gravitate around a Chinese pole and walk on imaginary walls. Dragging up as a geisha, Denis Lock climbs up chairs while piling them up impossibly high.
If anything detracts from the performances, it’s the muddy sound. Quite puzzling in a major music venue like the Roundhouse, it proved deadly to drag diva Le Gateau Chocolat, reducing his acclaimed operatic voice to a distant mumble. Likewise, the revue conspicuously lacks a central compère, alternating PA announcements with repeated audience-teasing turns by juggler-comic Mario, Queen of the Circus.
Though neglecting the ears, the engagement is an unparalleled feast for the eyes. La Soirée brings the art of circus to the foreground of variety, making its prominence in a burlesque- and cabaret-dominated scene even more remarkable. It’s not the many dangerous stunts that make it special, but the clever tongue-in-cheek spectacle that surrounds it. That’s some serious circus magic.
La Soirée. The Roundhouse, London. 23 November-29 January, Tue-Thu 20:00, Fri-Sat 19:00 and 22:00, Sun 19:00. £15-65. www.la-soiree.com
Photos courtesy of the performers