Life is a cabaret, old chum, so willkommen-bienvenu-welcome to La Clique, an intimate cabaret of burlesque comedy and circus, delivered in a mix of French and English, and performed mostly on a tiny circular stage set in the midst of an audience that is never more than about ten meters away. The show has roots in Australia but was first seen as a fringe offering at the 2004 Edinburgh festival. It has since enjoyed extended runs in the capitals of the world, with many of the same acts intact. I finally caught up with it at the Théâtre Bobino in Paris, and found a lot to like.
Here's their YouTube promo clip, the usual few seconds from each act, but it gives you some sense of the show.
In Paris, my notes scribbled in the dark list these acts, more or less in this order:
1. Mario, Queen of the Circus — 3-ball juggling as Freddie Mercury
2. The English Gents — comedy partner acrobatics
3. Amy G — comedy roller blading
4. Captain Frodo -- tennis racket contortion
5. Le Gateau Chocolat — opera / audience participation
6. Susannah Martinez — strip-tease magic
7. Yulia Pikhtina — hula-hoops
8. Bret Pfister — aerial hoop
9. Amy G — highly unusual Salute to America
10. Captain Frodo — balancing and contortion
11. David O'Mer — bathtub acrobatics
My favorite act, a very nice piece of physical comedy indeed, was the 10-minute contortion routine by the Norwegian "Captain Frodo." Most contortion acts bore me to tears, but this one was hilarious, with our good captain delivering non-stop bi-lingual patter as he attempted to pass his body through two tennis rackets, all the while falling off a chair and contending with an uncooperative microphone right out of George Carl. The choreography and timing were superb, which makes me hesitant to even show you the following video of his act from a performance in a far less intimate setting. It doesn't even show the whole act and it's missing a lot of the physical and verbal business that was so effective in the Clique environment. But, hey, we're all professionals here; I'm sure you know not all performances and settings are the same. So here's the video, but pretty please do try to catch him live.
Likewise nicely combining character and physical skill were the English Gents, who begin their partner acrobatic act dressed as dignified bankers, but for an encore strip to their Union Jack underpants.
The skill was there and the deadpan delivery worked nicely. Here's a short clip of their cabaret work, followed by a clip of them doing street performance, already stripped to their shorts:
Another crowd pleaser was the lip-synching juggler and unicyclist Clark McFarlane, "Mario, Queen of the Circus," so billed because of his emulation of rock star Freddie Mercury.
Your enjoyment of La Clique will, however, depend upon your sensibilities. The acts are mostly at a high level, several with a refreshing degree of originality — David O'Mer's water acrobatics in the bathtub is a joy — but the show bizzy glitz, glam, and sexual posturing were all a bit too forced and Vegas-y for my tastes. Le Gateau Chocolat, a flamboyant opera-singing queen who describes himself as an African homosexual zebra, gets a lot of easy laughs sitting on the laps of the front row of spectators. Amy G plays "God Bless America" on the kazoo, apparently from her vagina. Susannah Martinez vanishes a red silk scarf using ye olde thumb tip trick, each time"finding it" in an article of her own clothing, which she then of course must remove before repeating the trick... and repeating it and repeating it.... until she is finally out of hiding places. Yes, oh my gawd, naked! And you'll never guess what part of her anatomy she finds it in as her big finale! (Speaking of which, did you know that the French word for vagina is masculine? — le vagin. Go figure.) Clever enough for most of the audience to love it, but I found it predictable and nowhere near as skilled as the other acts.
I'm hardly a prude, and I even have a decadent fondness for cheap theatrics, but let's just say that the borderline between schlock and a parody of schlock can be a fine one.
La Clique continues its Paris run through June 26th. Go during the week and buy standing room and you may end up sitting in the first row of the balcony; we sure did.
LOU JACOBS: Hunting Gag (Backstage footage from the "BE A CLOWN" shoot at the Venice Arena) - *Video courtesy of Ron and Joey Severini*
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