La Clique, Roundhouse, London
When all that glitters is gold
Monday 30 November 2009
I first saw this wonderfully funny comic-cabaret extravaganza when it had its "first" London premiere at the Hippodrome in 2008.
The set-up of the show is a mad bill of fare that varies nightly, comprised of acts who pool their talents like loose-leaf members of a brilliantly rackety and eccentric family. The show's new incarnation is in the sublime railway shed-cum-Pantheon that is the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm. If theatre-in-the-round hadn't already existed, the configuration and cathedral-loftiness of this 19th-century industrial temple building would surely have prompted its invention. It's the venue's circus-tent potential that La Clique taps into – the epic hilariously elided with the intimate as the audience (some of whom stand; some of whom graze and quaff at tables) embraces a miniature circular stage at the centre of the proceedings.
The show was opened by Her Majesty the Queen (aka Queensland-born comedian, Gerry Connolly) who was togged out as if for a state banquet, though the glittery frock was the kind of tangerine colour more normally found in a sari. Keeping her reading-glasses tethered to her script, this monarch was a minefield of lapses into inadvertent lèse-majesté, the joke often a question of pronunciation (well, you try saying "my cousin, the Kents") and there's a glorious sequence where her Majesty's whole being baulks against the mention of "Camilla". The result is a compensatory bout of ever-more-bestial belching and unroyal eructation.
I was disappointed that the star turn of my first encounter with La Clique – a maniac called Captain Frodo was absent. He's the chump who threads his entire body through two tiny tennis rackets in a feat that looks like a Samuel Beckett slapstick pastiche of the parable of the rich man and the eye of a needle. Happily, there is genius of that order on the new bill. I loved the loony Swede Carl-Einar Häckner who looks, with his long wispy blond hair, lanky build, and ill-advised white jump suit, like what you'd get if you crossed Sir Andrew Aguecheek with a reject from auditions for an Abba Tribute Show. All manic apologetic laughs, and dove-like hand gestures, Carl-Einar lays you in the aisles with a routine that sees him following instruction from a how-to-perform-magic cassette that he picked up at a flea market. Things might have gone smoothly with the folding and secreting necessary for the trick being tutored, if it weren't for the fact that Carl-Einar imagines that a "bandana" is a "banana". Result: banana milk shake without the milk over everywhere.
The best act of all, for my money, is Meow Meow, a "kamikaze" cabaret diva who performs an audience participation routine that is a superb concept executed with wild comic perfection. Meow Meow is a volatile mix of crazed narcissist, inferiority-complex-in-plastic-and-glitter-trappings, demanding dominatrix and hapless klutz. These identities whizz round wackily – like discrepant radio stations sending out strange frequencies – as she ropes in various men to do various jobs for her as she attempts to sing a black torch song in German. One has to help her peel off her outer togs (hard when you are in such high heels); one has to hold her music for her (her grasp of the number somewhat shaky); another has to support her left leg in a kind of upright half-split. And all of them are needed when she struggles to form a swastika-shape with her collapsing chassis. It's one of the funniest things I have ever seen – not least because though insanely anarchic, it is oddly respectful of the male audience members it (only in one sense) exploits.
There's not a dud act in the show, which includes a mock-dykey duo on the trapeze, Ursula Martinez producing a disappearing handkerchief from ever-ruder orifices in her ironic striptease, and a genial leather queen, Mario Queen of the Circus whose role in life is to make promiscuity seem the nearest thing to a pantheist group hug. He binds an entertainment that has an affecting warmth as well as glitter.
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