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La Clique

by on 18 November 2022

Spinning Thrills

La Clique

Underbelly at the Spiegeltent, Leicester Square until 7th January

Review by David Stephens

Advertised as ‘a night of laughs, gasps and can’t believe your eyes moments’, La Clique, now in its fifteenth year and a regular on London’s Christmas entertainment scene, certainly lives up to its billing.  Located within Leicester Square’s ever popular Christmas Market, and in the heart of the hustle and bustle of London life, the Spiegeltent is the ideal location for a show which is as risqué as it is risky.

With inflation through the roof, twenty quid doesn’t get you much in London nowadays…..  if you’re lucky you may get a seat ‘up in the gods’ of a West End theatre or, more likely, a couple of pints and a packet of kettle chips from a local hostelry.  It is remarkable, therefore, that, in the heart of Theatreland, for under £20, not only can you get to see a top London show, but one which is guaranteed to make a lasting impression. 

At curtain up, the compere requests that everyone take their seats and put mobile phones away but for no other reason than wanting the audience to simply live in the moment and enjoy the show.  The essence of his announcement… get up from your seats and clap along if you chose to, head to the bar for a beer if you want to but, for a couple of hours at least, put your phone down, put life’s worries to the back of your mind, allow yourself to get sloshed and be thoroughly entertained.  Well, when put like that, it would be rude not to.

What follows is 110 minutes of mind-blowing stunts, incredible routines and highly polished performances, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous but always hugely entertaining throughout.  Up first was the beautiful Miss Jolie Papillon, whose mesmerising burlesque routine immediately transformed the venue from a tent in the middle of London’s busiest squares, into a smoky Soho basement.  Miss Jolie performs twice throughout the evening, opening both Acts, and holding her captivated audience in the palm of her hands on both occasions. 

Next was an acrobatic routine by the hugely talented Katherine Arnold, who delivered a wonderfully choreographed aerial piece, displaying her range of technical skills and sheer strength using a hoop suspended from the roof.  In the interest of true variety, the action was then paused with a musical interlude as songbird Ashley Stroud impressed with her version of Diamonds are Forever.  Stroud also entertains with a stunning version of That’s Life during the second half and both of these performances were truly captivating.  Her voice, a blend of Tina Turner and Billie Holiday, putting her unique mark on both renditions.

Next up was the moody, robed figure of Mikael Bres who, when prompted by one audience member to “take it [the robe] off”, retorted in a sulky French accent, “I do what the f*** I want” before immediately obliging, revealing a torso that only a highly accomplished acrobat could possess.  And he was exactly that.  Performing on the Chinese pole, Mikel’s act was the highlight of the evening and was not only death defying but, at times, gravity defying as well.  At one moment he appears to stand horizontally on the vertical pole showing absolutely no effort or fear.  Suspended here for a few moments he then drops twenty feet, stopping himself only a few inches from the stage floor by clamping the pole between the rear of his thighs and calves… you have to see it to believe it!

How on earth do you follow an act like that?  The answer is with Sam Goodburn, a packet of biscuits and a unicycle.  This silent act is absolutely hilarious as Sam, appearing on stage wearing a pair of pyjamas, proceeds to strip off while precariously peddling his unicycle up and down the perilously small stage and, with the help of an audience member who has been coaxed on stage by a trail of rich tea biscuits (one of which was found in my bag later that evening), continues to get changed into his evening wear.  Surely it couldn’t get any more surreal than this, could it?

Enter Hugo Desmarais…. as gay Jesus!  Having viewed the press photos prior to seeing the show, one wondered why there were photographs of a man dressed as Jesus, and, having now seen the show, one still wonders the same.  It seems that this act exists, in part at least, to provide the shock factor that some may have come to expect from La Clique but, to be honest, it was all a little unnecessary and, certainly to those of a religious persuasion, offensive.  During his act, Desmarais, dressed only in a loin cloth and crown of thorns, enters into an intentionally insulting exchange with the audience before going on to bless (soak) them with his “holy” water.  Then, climbing onto his spinning crucifix, mounted to the roof of the tent, proceeds to undertake what is, in all fairness, an absolutely incredible acrobatic aerial performance.  Although, for some, this performance well and truly crossed the lines of acceptability, it is fair to say that, in the main, his act was very well received and was certainly more camp than blasphemous.  Although his attire was not to everyone’s taste, his routine was as spectacular as it was shocking and will certainly live long in the memory.

Unfortunately, the first half ends with a bit of a damp squib, as Tara Boom appears as an anxious pop-corn vendor.  Making her way to the stage via the auditorium, she hands out bags of popcorn to the audience.  Now on stage, she realises that she needs to make more and proceeds, rather haphazardly, to tip the requisite ingredients into her tall hat, adding a handful of salt from her knickers and then fires popcorn, from said hat, over the stage and the first few rows.  End of Act One!

Act Two contains more of the same, as each performer appears with another act, but at no point does it feel tired or boring.  Indeed, Tara Boom’s second performance is quite remarkable, and is as contrasting with her awkward popcorn vendor as can be.  Now appearing in an elegant two piece suit, she lies on her back and entertains the audience with a show of great precision, skill and balance as she performs a stunning set with four spinning Chinese parasols.  Also noteworthy was the reappearance of Desmarais, now wearing more conventional attire, as he performed an incredible aerial duet with Katherine Arnold, to Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer.  Here the two of them spun so fast that, at one point, it looked like they may fly off into the audience, over whom they swung so perilously. 

With its combination of stunning costumes, jaw-dropping performances and a genuine fear for the safety of the performers and, at times, my fellow audience members, La Clique was a wonderfully exhilarating experience and highly recommended.  Its price-to-entertainment ratio is off the scale and is a must if you’re looking for some affordable entertainment this festive season.  Grab a ticket while you can.

David Stephens, November 2022

Photography by Craig Sugden

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