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Review: La Soirée reminds us that cabaret circus can be erotic, dangerous and irreverent

In a circus city that beats to the drum of its ubiquitous Cirque du Soleil, it’s easy to forget that circus/cabaret shows can actually be daring, erotic and underground in spirit. The first time I came to the realization was five years ago, when British variety show La Clique performed its cheeky, steamy antics at the now-defunct Just for Laughs Museum. That same core of performers is now back for the North American premiere of La Soirée, and the circus sideshow still makes for a titillating night out on the town.

In the intimate confines of the Olympia Theatre, the dozen-or-so performers take turns flaunting their acrobatic prowess, flippant funniness and penchant for the freaky on a tiny circular stage. Sassy drag singer and lycra queen Le Gâteau Chocolat gets things going with baritone pipes that’ll give you both shivers and giggles. Throughout the show, this untamed beast dons a number of colourful, skin-tight ensembles, gropes assorted male spectators, performs a delirious rendition of Rihanna’s Umbrella and reminds us La Soirée has its roots on the fringe circuit (the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe Fest, to be specific), something ringmaster Brett Haylock stressed when we chatted a few weeks back.

“We’ve got world-class acrobats, and many of these performers also come from fringe and gay circuits. They don’t just impress with their tricks; this also happens to be a no-holds-barred showcase for their wild antics!”

Le Gâteau Chocolat // Yulia Pykhtina (Credit: Matilda Temperley)

Like any cabaret show, expect lots of hits and a few misses, as this grab bag of talent appeals to people with widely varying expectations. For this writer, trilingual cabaret singer/magician/comedian Ursula Martinez stole the show, first with her disappearing handkerchief act, a bold little strip number that found her shedding layers as the tiny piece of cloth kept reappearing in the unlikeliest of places. Her Spanish 101 lesson was a hilarious culture tease, and her reinvented Guantanamera guitar jam trounced on all the right clichés.

Magnetic hula hooper Yulia Pykhtina commanded those ginormous spangles with grace. The duo known as The English Gents (although they’re Aussies!) wowed, with one holding the other upside down with his hand, as both remained absolutely Bond-like in their composure - reading the paper, fiddling with an umbrella and generally sending up British proper. Hamish McCann, one half of the Gents, also dazzled in a lamppost-swinging tribute to Singin’ in the Rain, donning bowler hat and removing shirt (why not?) to spin around said lamppost like it’s tsunami season.

The English Gents (Credit: Perou) // David O'Mer (Credit: Perou)

While a few numbers don’t quite measure up to the troupe’s high calibre (a nu-wave, sentimental take on the trapeze, and a doomed comedy skit wherein an overly eager audience member threw the clown who’d invited him on stage for a loop), there was tons to cheer for. The polar opposite of an elitist, uptight show, La Soirée's a booze-fuelled, buff bodied, sex-drenched bash that ain’t afraid to take the piss out of itself.

As a final digestif, Berlin ex-gymnast David O’Mer, aka “Bath Boy”, delivered a campy rub-a-dub-dub, aerial-ballet-in-the-tub that had many women and at least 10% of the gentlemen all flustered over those washboard abs and wet denim. Exactly the kind of cast iron excitement you won’t find at a big top near you.


La Soirée
Until July 15
Olympia Theatre | 1004 Ste-Catherine East