Thursday, February 25, 2016

LA CLIQUE - The Famous Spiegeltent

The Famous Spiegeltent
Civic Square, Canberra until 14th March.
Reviewed by Bill Stephens

It’s not often you get to see a show starring a Queen and a Prince. But that’s what you get in the latest edition of “La Clique” currently playing in The Famous Spiegeltent, now residing in opulent splendour in front of the Canberra Theatre Centre.

To attend a show in The Famous Spiegeltent is a unique theatrical experience in itself, and certainly one to be savoured. This remarkable old relic, built by master craftsmen in Belgium in the 1920’s, travels the world, showcasing its wares in a deliciously decadent packaging of antique wood panelled mirrors, stained glass windows and glowing red velvet curtains. Happily ensconced in one of the several cosy booths which surround the stage, it’s easy to believe that Marlene Dietrich actually performed for audiences in this very tent. So why not the Queen?

Gerry Connolly 

Indeed mouths dropped in disbelief as the Queen, in full coronation regalia, entered the room, and with a wicked twinkle in her eye, proceeded to address the audience. Closer inspection confirmed that she was none other than comedian Gerry Connolly who convulsed the audience with wicked comments directed at Canberra in particular, and the state of the Commonwealth in general.

Expect the unexpected with “La Clique”.  This classy, award winning revue was first conceived in 2004,  as an entertainment  to be performed in the Famous Spiegletent, (owned by former Canberran, David Bates), at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  Since then the show has travelled the world, sometimes performing in permanent theatres for extended periods, but usually, as in Canberra, in the Famous Spiegletent.

For the Canberra season of “La Clique”, Bates has assembled a small company of world-class physical theatre artists and musicians who pay homage to the hundreds of artists who have preceded them, with 21st Century versions of acts which have been performed in The Famous Spiegletent for almost a century.

Among them, the lavishly costumed Victoria Franklin, who manipulates a huge silk cloak infused with multi-coloured lights, to spectacularly replicate a similar act originally performed by Loie Fuller at the Folies Bergere in the 1890’s. Later Franklin in a luxurious cloud of white ostrich feathers performs a version of the elegant fan dance famously created by Sally Rand in the 1920’s. 

Omar Cortes

German acrobat, Omar Cortes, channelling megastar, Prince, performs “La Clique’s” sexy bathtub signature act to the sounds of “Purple Rain”. Dripping wet and swinging on straps high over the heads of brave front-rowers cowering below under plastic, Cortez executes hair-raising stunts between plunges into a white enamel bath tub.  

Perhaps the loveliest act in the show begins with a young girl (Felice Aguilar) sitting beside a baby grand piano enraptured by a piece of classical music being played by Gerry Connolly. Seemingly inspired by the music, the girl moves to a table which has a small turntable in the centre. She then proceeds to perform a series of mesmerising manoeuvres in an act that is both artistic and spellbinding.Demonstrating her versatility Aguilar teams with dancer Chris Myland, in another part of the show, to perform a stunning apache style adagio routine which leaves the audience gasping.

Remi Martin 
Each performer in this edition of “La Clique” is at the top of their game. All have perfected acts which require incredible physical skill and control, and all know how to connect with their audience. None more so than handsome pole aerialist, Remi Martin, who, after being caught with his pants down, proceeds  to thrill and delight with his incredible human fly feats performed on a pole reaching to the very roof of the Spiegeltent.

Rubber faced, Sophie Zucchini makes her first entrance under a huge black hat, and demonstrates her amazing flexibility performing gracefully on lengths of silk. But it is her hanky panky with a red silk hanky that few who see it will forget.  Most magicians simply take off their jacket to demonstrate that they have nothing hidden up their sleeve..but not Sophie .. she goes further…much, much further with her unforgettable act which is stylish, funny and extraordinarily entertaining.

Sophie Zucchini 

All the acts in "La Clique" are accompanied with live music from Melbourne combo, The Shuffle Club. Their excellent arrangements provide the necessary drama and excitement and also highlight the musicianship of Dannie Bourne (piano), Ashley Gordian (saxaphone), Rod Gilbert (Drums) Marty Hayley (Guitar) and James on double bass.

Adding glamour and finesse to the superb sounds of The Shuffle Club  is glamorous New York chanteuse, Kelly Wolfgram whose warm, flexible vocals are showcased in a sultry blues solo during the show.

The transitions between acts are smooth and efficient but made particularly memorable by wry Master of Ceremonies, Paul Zenon, who is perhaps not the most competent magician in the world, but certainly among the most entertaining.

Paul Zenon 

For anyone who enjoys top class physical theatre, stylish burlesque, heart-stopping thrills and glamour, “La Clique” performed in the Famous Spiegletent is about as good as it gets.  

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review -