Melbourne Festival: La Soiree

With a mix of vaudeville and burlesque acts, La Soiree is a format familiar to festival audiences, especially as it’s the popular La Clique in a new space. When I saw La Clique some years ago the acts were fresh and I sat gobsmacked. Seeing some acts essentially from shows gone by was a bit of a let down, but still, this show in the round features some eye-goggling displays of physical skill and strength.

The late Saturday night performance got up to speed quickly with an impressive trapeze routine by New York’s Wau Wau Sisters. Emerging as blonde-wigged, beer-swilling bogan chicks, they ripped into a slickly choreographed routine featuring novel partnerwork. Having seen their varied skills in their own shows such as The Last Supper, by the end of the evening I found myself disappointed that they weren’t given another spot in the second half.

Jess Love in La Soiree
Jess Love in La Soiree

I was looking forward to a performance from the English Gents as promised by the guide, but we only got one gentleman, sans characteristic Union Jack accessories, Hamish McCann stretching out on his own.  His gymnastic routine around a streetlight showed exactly what is required for an act in this setting: an unusual talent, surprising variations and no flat patches. Melbourne’s Jess Love has this theory nailed, her two spots performed inventive tricks with hoops and a skipping rope. The Andrews Sisters-esque music was bright and perky, and a fitting accompanyment to the zesty routines, and she looked to be having a ball. Montreal’s Bret Pfister kept the energy up with his punchy aerial hoop routine, I hope he will be better spotlit in later shows.

David O’Mer’s act has played a large part in the notoriety (and posters) of La Clique seasons, but I hadn’t been fortunate to see him. Happily for Melbourne audiences, this show requisitions his Bath Boy routine. Wearing only tight black jeans in a bath tub, O’Mer cultivates a character enjoying some self-indulgent quiet time with an acrobatic routine that playfully celebrates the physical as he conducts his body through a symphony of isometrics.

Some acts suffer from not changing with the times. Audience members who hadn’t seen Norway’s Captain Frodo before responded to the shock value of his contortions. As I’d seen his tennis racquet routine, I found it a little slow, but this was redeemed by a second new and leaner routine.

Less thrilling acts included a goofy comedy with audience participation and seemingly obligatory burlesque section, which preferred the overt (full-frontal nudity and references to clitoral stimulation) to any subtle teasing. If this isn’t a problem for your group, then Ursula Martinez’s “Hanky Panky” take on a classic magic trick will confound even if you’ve seen it before. At least as interesting as the trick itself is how audiences in cyberspace have reacted to it, considered by Martinez in another show that I wish I’d seen.

I am a huge fan of Le Gateau Chocolate having seen him in Company of Strangers and his 2011 solo show. He’s a big man with a bigger stage presence and unforgettable costumes, and listening to him sing the “The Sound of Music” or “Nessun dorma” is like being struck by a ganache lightening bolt. Watching him grind to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” is infectious fun, but unsually, his performance felt subdued. The raunchy lap dancing on audience members that has previously suggested a man comfortable in is own skin, looked forced and the exertion made the singing somewhat breathless. However, his later motionless performance of Radiohead’s “Creep”, with no wig, lyrca or sequins, just baggy long johns, suggested a stripping away of his performer visage and this theatrical moment was a sharp contrast to the earlier ribaldry.

I doubt that the variety show format really allows performers to do their best work. Similar shows that have impressed me incorporate story and character (like Circus Trick Tease, Smoke and Mirrors and The Dirty Brothers) or at least have a charasmatic and dangerous host like La Clique’s Mikelangelo.

Regardless, La Soiree is full of surprises and wonder, the music is energising and the costumes are sumptuous. With a season beyond the Melbourne Festival, there may be different experiences on different nights through the La Clique tradition of using guest stars. Tickets are available at a range of price points, and $30 standing-only tickets are especially good value whether you haven’t seen La Clique before or want to see some of your favourite acts again.

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