Mark Rubenstein and Mick Perrin for Just for Laughs Live
Photo by Alistair Muir
Conceived and Created by Brett Haylock and David Bates for Spiegeltent International
Creative Producer – Brett Haylock
Lighting Designer – Willie Suddon
20 Nov 09 - 17 Jan 10
A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
La Clique is not your usual circus. First of all, it is definitely, not aimed at children though it is designed to appeal to the big kid in many so called grown-ups. And, rather than tailoring itself towards maintaining its’ audiences’ status quos, as more traditional shows in that genre might, this Olivier Award winning show (Best Entertainment 2009) takes some of the usual components of circus, such as acrobatics, juggling and magic and, as well as standing them on their spangly heads, also cleverly, re-colours our judgements on, well, our judgements, comically utilising familiar stereotypes along the way, not least among them, popular misconceptions about what makes a woman 'sexy', as well as many other everyday allusions relating to just about any prejudice you could name, from ageism to xenophobia.
Having enjoyed this high energy, double-barrelled show at the Hippodrome prior to its' unsurprising Olivier win, I was no stranger to the non-site specific, highly ironic, perception-shifting terrain its ever changing troupe inhabits when I entered the Roundhouse. However, nothing could have prepared me for the vibrantly colourful atmosphere in the venue, with its strings of lights specially strung among baby spots to simulate the circular surrounds of an olde time big top. As derbyed ushers scurried to and fro, assisting audience members and one circus march after another cranked out of the sound system, including a cartoonishly frantic William Tell Overture, the tone was set and the show was about to begin.
Having been accompanied to our seats by none other than the dapper and personable ringmaster himself, donned in 1930's retro pin-striped suit, who hurried off, only to return armed with a couple of deluxe souvenir programmes, my companion and I were ready to enjoy ourselves. 'It's Thursday night, in our books, the weekend has started,' he told the audience, with an easy smile. 'Don't be shy - there's the bar. If you like what you see, make some noise.' All stock circus talk in my experience, (apart from mention of the bar), familiar from bygone days when I'd sat in canvas big-tops on the edge of its' planks, aka seats, as three or four 'families' intermittently re-appeared under different surnames, allegedly hailing from different countries, rather amazingly performing different feats of derring do on each occasion.
This edition of La Clique is typically off the wall from the get go as Gerry Connolly, aka Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II climbs atop the baby grand, and, once the laughs and applause die down, reads a speech (s)he'd specially written to open the show. I won't tell you exactly what Connolly said, but, suffice it to say that while completely in character, voice, crown, glitteringly gosh gown and all, it isn't so much what Connolly says, but how he says it.
My sides ached by the time the next act, high voltage ariel artists, the two Wau-Wau Sisters of NYC bounded onto the small circular stage. In heavy metal, rock chick mode, i.e. leopard tank tops, hot pants, rough bands on wild hair, and bad attitudes, one ‘sister’ swigged a can of Bud below, while the other frantically puffed on a fag while swinging above, before both got into full throttle stride to blaring heavy metal anthem, 'In the Jungle.' The things the sisters do in the course of their act simply have to be seen to be appreciated, as they rapidly climb and intertwine, swinging all the while, often defying laws of balance and gravity. However factitious their exaggerated mannerisms may seem, the Wau-Wau’s intricate, razor-tight act is hard-core circus, at its’ rocked out best.
We've all known a guy like Mario – ‘Queen of the Circus’, who's obsessed with the seminal rock band, as opposed to the monarch, and girls as opposed to boys, contrary to what his name might suggest. But that’s just one of Mario’s many paradoxes. Clarke McFarlane's character is endearingly Joe Bloggs without any of the ‘cool’ that keeps those supposedly possessing it feeling ‘hot’, but ultimately robs one of any semblance of true street cred. Physically, Mario is about as un-Freddy Mercury like as you could get, apart from his black leather biker gear. Though after meeting him, you may just wonder if there's a little of Freddy Mercury in all of us, after all. McFarlane's naturalistic interactions with the crowd and fearless bravery in the face of potential hecklers compliments his amazing juggling, heightening his act into star studded status. Not bad for a wiry little fellow with a false moustache! If you're sitting down front, you will definitely come into closer physical contact with Mario than you may have ever dreamed of or, wished for! Even though McFarlane as Mario told those who were seeing him for the second time that his act would be the 'same old s***', we still found him laugh out loud funny and whether you've seen him before or not, you will doubtless, feel the same way. Mario, who's quite a solid showman, gives new meaning to 'Another One Bites the Dust,' as sung by his idol Freddie Mercury, making it the ultimate juggling anthem for his act.
The white, three-piece suit and IKEA bag of totally different, but similarly hilarious Carl-Einar Hackner signal that he comes from Sweden. Hackner is a contemporary clown in the best tradition of that term, as he botches one magic trick after another, a la Tommy Cooper, to hearty laughs from the audience, or clumsily stumbles onto the piano and the stage with yet another wacky aside. Both Mc Farlane as Mario and Hackner return to entertain the audience intermittently, effectively, slotting in between other acts, more than filling in for the absent, troupe of clowns bursting from a tiny car, akin to circuses of yore. Both offer characters who are extremely likeable, simply because they're so flawed, making them readily identifiable to all and sundry, which in turn, allows us to laugh at ourselves while we're laughing at them. Both performers explore issues of maleness, from testosterone fuelled Mario's bare midriff crowd surfing, to Hackner's long haired, awkward, zip- fumbling as he bares his boyish chest to the crowd in a bejewelled white Elvis jumpsuit. The language barrier is another thing that Hackner toys with, to great comic results.
Startlingly big haired Marawa appears as though she’s been fired from a cannon, on roller skates, in leopard skin latex, shocking pink lipstick, high heels and hula hoops, and she twirls more hoops over every section of her anatomy than anyone you've ever seen! Her act is sassy, energetic and simply untoppable! And the vigorous twirling she does is performed to a throbbing, Technicolor Disco beat! Marawa does things with a hoop, or two, or three, or four, or five, and more, till you'll wonder how many she can handle, as it seems the number is endless! She left us with a knowing wink as if to say, 'How's that for tricks?'
Anyone seeing Ursula Martinez of Spain (via Croydon) for the second time, might be forgiven for feeling as though they know her very well, at least on the surface. Martinez will be appearing at the Barbican in the New Year on her own. In this instance however, we felt a bit like co-conspirators, enjoying audience reactions of surprise as she subverted that old magician’s chestnut, 'hide the hanky' or 'now you see it, now you don't', leaving those wishing for more, literally, wanting for nought. This co-conspirator feeling was heightened when Martinez returned for her second 'act' with her Spanish guitar, speaking in Espanola through innuendos, much of which though not intelligible, was understood, loud and clear, thanks to her rubbery facial expressions and blatantly comic mannerisms.
Making a deliberately unceremonious entrance as a frustrated diva, screaming from the aisle, once onstage Meow Meow quickly chose four able-bodied helpers/victims from the men seated down front to bolster, not just her exaggerated ego, but also, her spreading thighs, among other obviously feminine accoutrements. But whichever way you look at it, statements like 'I feel a draft' do not exactly make for Audrey Hepburn moments while four strange men are holding you aloft as you sing with your skirt hiked up! Later, however, chanteuse on the loose Meow Meow cast her OTT shadow on the crowd enjoying waitress service in privileged clusters at the opposite end of the house, as she threw back the curtains and made a grand entrance. She proceeded to belt out a deliberately melo-dramatic, but nonetheless stunning rendition of 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' while standing astride the grand piano, which seemed even grander with her topping it. Though her first screeching, seemingly inadvertently bawdy act had reminded me that I've never heard the distinctive combination of underlying tuts and out loud hilarity which spontaneously greets La Clique at any other circus performance! Though, I’m happy to say, the hurrahs have it!
The incomparable Skating Willers, alleged 'dinosaurs' of planet La Clique, according to our announcer, provide the lion's share of the thrills in this show, with their daring act, comprised of Mr. and Mrs. W. performing amazing feats of great precision, skill and ultra-tight timing in roller skates, atop the tiny (for this act) circular stage to audible oooohs and aaaahs of a nail-biting crowd, followed by rousing cheers and applause. If our hearts were in our throats as Mr. Willen swung his sporty wife around by one foot while whirling in a circle at top speed, I can only imagine how much more exciting their performance must have been for those sitting down front! This middle-aged couple comes across as anything but past it, exuding oodles of hard-rock charm and personality as they go,go,go! 'It's Now or Never', as one of the song's playing went, and a ticket to see this pair performing should more than satisfy anyone's circus fix!
Sam Alvarez not only makes a welcome addition to this diverse company, but also, a highly mesmerising one. Writhing above the stage in chains, rather than the more traditional ropes, Alvarez cuts a powerfully romantic figure, moving through the air with as much grace as any ballet dancer, simultaneously emoting broodingly as he moves. His continuing, borderline contortionist movements onstage afterwards similarly displayed not only his acrobatic skills, but also his imaginative choreography, as he flipped his body, gracefully arching his back, while openly admiring young females down front looked on. Alvarez's potent act provides a dreamier, though no less welcome, respite from La Clique's more prevalent, upbeat, often wacky performers.
As we were once again singing along with Mario to 'We Are the Champions', near the end of the show, I was reminded that there is no time like the present for all of us to be singing the same song. I was also reminded that no matter how many times you see La Clique, it will always leave you wanting to see it once more. That in itself is no mean feat!
Photo by Alistair Muir
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