In all my years of theatre-going I never imagined I’d join 500 others leaping up, en masse, to give a whooping ovation to a bowler-hatted man who had spent ten minutes just blowing bubbles at us.
Or that I’d enjoy watching a guy intentionally (I think) fall off a stage for extra laughs while squeezing his regular-sized body through a 10-inch wide tennis racket.
But that’s La Soirée for you. It’s an over-the-top, ever-evolving, theatrical phenomenon that blurs the boundaries between circus, cabaret and freakshow.
Some acts will be divisive, some have wider appeal but they’re united by one fact: What the human body can achieve through hard work – and the odd anatomical accident of birth – is seemingly without limits.
Opening nights at the Southbank Centre’s Spiegeltent are usually glamorous affairs and Friday was no exception, with a fizz-gulping audience and liberal sprinkling of celebs (Brian May with his shirt barely buttoned, dreadlocked comedian Tim Minchin, Ainsley Harriott) more than ready to raucously cheer anyone and anything.
Having last visited the venue for the summer’s extraordinary and extraordinarily-raunchy Briefs cabaret, I was hoping for more of the same.
La Soirée delivers in bucketloads, with a similar level of high-energy, technical proficiency, obscenely low body-fat percentages and unexpected turns that have you leaving the show grinning from ear to ear and desperate to get in the gym.
When you book for La Soirée you’re not sure who you’re going to get on the night – it’s a big company with a number of core performers joined by an ever-changing cast of local and international circus stars.
Last night’s highlight was The English Gents – Denis Lock and Hamish McCann – two talented gymnasts with more than one trick up their well-tailored sleeves.
In the first half we got the duo’s dapper double-act, a stunning display of strength and balance that set the tone for the rest of the show.
While McCann returned to close the night on a jaw-dropping high with a stylish pole-dance, it was Lock’s second act that blew away the crowd.
Returning to the stage with a handful of bubble wands and a pipe, he proceeded to create the most astonishing multi-layered, swirling, twirling creations that seemed to defy all the rules of chemistry, physics and imagination.
Utterly mesmerising, but definitely one of those “you had to be there” moments that doesn’t sound anywhere near as impressive described the morning after.
Asher Treleaven’s sleazy gentleman character is hysterical, first with his ‘sexy diablo for the ladies’, then with a less-than-accurate comedy reading of a filthy Mills & Boon novel which sent the audience roaring.
Mario, Queen of the Circus, was just as hilarious, bravely sending up Freddie Mercury (just a few metres from Dr May) with a series of juggling and hula hoop acts set to a Queen soundtrack.
The comic acts were a perfect change of pace to the night’s more physical performances, including faultless aerial performers Bret Pfizer and Yammel Rodriguiz (smoking a cigar as she swirled around the rafters on a single length of material) and the charismatic Melanie Chy.
Roaring onto the stage astride her Harley to Marilyn Manson’s pounding and entirely fitting track, Beautiful People, the Olympic-standard gymnast downed a beer while balancing on every part of the bike in an extraordinary display of agility.
A striking redhead with killer curves to match a killer voice, Miss Frisky brought the glamour, belting out a series of cabaret classics throughout the night.
Double-jointed contortionist, sword-swallower and sideshow staple Captain Frodo was delightfully chaotic.
We couldn’t help but squeal with shock and disgust as he popped his shoulders into the most terrifying shapes, a trick of nature that’s considerably more painful to watch than it apparently is for him to do.
La Soirée is a dysfunctional mishmash of jaw-dropping spectacle and top comedy, performed by the very best talent in today’s circus scene.
Running at the Spiegeltent, Southbank Centre, until January 17.
La Soirée, at the Southbank Spiegeltent, is a theatrical phenomenon that blurs the boundaries between circus, cabaret and freakshow.