Upon entering the Roundhouse, tickets are swapped for wristbands, giving an early indication of the festival feel to La Soirée. Latecomers are welcomed, children are not, and there is constant encouragement to support the bars and relax into the show. The heady atmosphere which this encourages coupled with the vast, lush surroundings of the Roundhouse ensures a festive feel; there can have been no better timing for this limited run of La Soirée.
La Soirée is something of an assault on the senses. The opening act epitomizes the exceptional contradictory element to the show - it's a complicated mash-up of complete farce and extreme talent. Le Gateau Chocolatassails the vision in a ridiculous blast of glitter and eyelashes, then emits the voice of an angel, albeit a tenor angel. A brooding rendition of “Nessun Dorma” disarms the audience as it fills the venue - it is immediately clear that La Soirée is no ordinary night at the theatre.
Queen enthusiast Mario, Queen of the Circus, retains his crown, no mean feat given the stiff competition all around him. He storms out looking like the lovechild of Russell Brand and Borat in an effort to resemble Freddie Mercury, setting in motion a hilarious, persistently endearing routine. The energy that fizzles from this leather-clad impresario is infectious. He revisits the stage at intervals culminating in a wonderful “Drop the Girl in the Front Row” routine, which, with the assistance of a willing audience member, teases nervous laughter and delight from the audience.
Variety really is the order of the evening, as German acrobats Chris and Iris are next to amaze. With their comical little and large contrast, dressed in an assembly of dogtooth and braces they perform magnificent feats of strength and balance as Chris tosses Iris about in the manner with which a child would handle a teddy bear. This smugly confident duo command stage and audience with a delightfully simplistic routine free of props and gimmicks relying on refreshingly traditional acrobatics.
Nate Cooper is a flurry of top-hat and tails, turning boot-skates into tap shoes while still managing to convince the audience of his inability with clown-like foolery. The ridiculous meets the absurd as Cooper's routine progresses, his wonderfully expressive face expressing nerves and fright right to the close. The small round podium at centre-stage is skated to its limits as massive shiny daggers are produced, convincing ringside spectators that Cooper might at any moment land in their lap. This sense of trepidation has a huge impact on the atmosphere throughout the show. Hugo Desmarais and Katharine Arnold invoke the same apprehension when they perform their gripping seduction scene suspended from “The Cage” high above the podium.
The hula-hooping prowess of Yulia Pykhtina leaves the audience mesmerised as she manipulates and commands her limbs in unimaginable ways to the point that at one impossible moment, each of her limbs holds a spinning hoop and she appears firework-like and graceful as ever at centre stage. Brave and willing audience members contributed greatly to the later part of the show, not least when sweet and coy Mooky lead one reluctant volunteer through a whole love-scene through cue cards positioned strategically about her body. The order of show and selection of performers varies each night of La Soirée. This, coupled with intermittent audience participation lends a wonderful interpretive and spontaneous element.
David Armand is another surprise as he provides an earnest and intense reprieve from the more slapstick action with his interpretive dance, an incredibly funny, consuming routine to “Torn” by Natalie Umbruglia. The Skating Willers skate their way through a mellow “My Way” to Tom Jones' “Sexbomb”, tempo rising with every twist in this, their swan-song season before Wanda Azzario retires her skates. Hamish McCann of The English Gents gets to grips with a lamp post in a display of upper body strength that's enough to make one's eyes water and encourage some swooning in the front row to boot.
When all is said it's impossible to pin-down a description of La Soirée, as its transitory nature ensures that no two shows will be the same and the limited run encourages a sense of festive urgency. What seems to be guaranteed is a relentlessly entertaining evening stuffed with dramatic tension and a circus-feel, the pace and mood hugely impacted by fantastic lighting design by Willie Suddon. The show closes with another input from Le Gateau Chocolat, accompanied by Kooky on piano. The choice of song, “Smile”, composed by Charlie Chaplin and recorded since then by everyone from Judy Garland to Michael Jackson, seems especially appropriate to close a show with a seemingly endless list of influences.