Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Chapter 187: Soho The Show at The Peacock, Sadlers Wells

All photo credits:
Did you know a clownfish hatches as male, but gradually turns female depending on the environment? I learned that fact from my daughter yesterday, who was researching endangered species for her homework. I thought of Soho...

Soho The Show is currently on at The Peacock, Sadlers Wells until 20 May, and is a whistle-stop tour through a day in the life of the area, through the eyes of a Soho virgin, a continental backpacker (Alessio Motta), as he seeks to find his bearings. We pass through Soho Square itself and Chinatown, and legendary haunts like Madame Jojo's and The Colony Rooms, and are immersed in a world of Soho tropes and tarts including an underwear mannequin in a shop window, a Hare Krishna monk, a Big Issue seller, a punk rocker, a boudoir model and photographer, burlesque dancers and a glittering clownfish of a drag queen in her element. There isn't a narrative as such, rather a series of tableaux vivants that are threaded together by a sense of gradual progression from diurnal to nocturnal activities, from coffee to cocktales.

The show is the brainchild of director Abigail Yeates, who conceived the piece about seven or eight years ago and then last year worked with second year students at the National Centre for Circus Arts over two periods of Research and Development. Auditions were held the following January and the cast now comprises a dozen performers drawn from all over the world, including two artists from the original show, Danny Ash (from circus cabaret Ssshhh! - click here) and Charlee Rico De Bolla. I was also looking forward to seeing Rebecca Rennison (leading lady in Chivaree Circus' Becoming Shades - click here), and the choreography of Eleni Edipidi, co-artistic director for Levantes Dance Theatre, in London recently at Jacksons Lane and The Albany with "The Band".

The creation was a collaboration with Stufish, a team of entertainment architects - what a great job title!  If you have been to the Pink Floyd exhibition at the V&A recently you will have come across their work as they are behind the design, and have been instrumental in staging Pink Floyd concerts over the years, as well as working with a number of other legends (Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Madonna, Elton John...) As you can imagine then, the graphics on set were superb. It's not often that I have seen a circus show with such a budget for the set design, and, while not eclipsing the artists, it was a performance in its own right. I am sure that Stufish' history in the music industry was brought to bear on the cracking musical score ranging from the Sex Pistols to David Bowie. 

But it wasn't all rock and roll. As the crowds spilled out of the tube and the day began, I particularly enjoyed Paolo Conte's gravelled tones ("Via con me" - It's wonderful...) framing the slick hand-to-hand acrobatics and comedy of the Bar Italia waiters Loric Fouchereau and Peter Freeman. Daft Punk thudded in a gym full of ripped guys and rippling muscles pumping irons and testostorone (deadlifting Danny Ash was a stroke of genius) and spurting... water bottles! Meanwhile Charlee Rico DeBolla's boxing turn had real punch, think Jason Statham on straps. In my gym this morning Starship blared out (Nothing's gonna stop us now...), reminding me of Mélanie Dupuis' striking turn as the aforementioned mannequin in the shop window during a Soho scene setter, and I loved Danny Ash's Mad Hatter of a tailor cutting a dapper figure in a purple top hat and matching suit with chequered trousers, in a world that got progressively curiouser and curiouser. 

Using "Mellow Yellow" to register the psychedelic saffron trappings of universal love made me smile, and even if I thought a tourist-bashing punk was more the province of Camden than Soho, albeit an agent provocateur, Rebecca Rennison nailed it. A pointed observation about the increasing gentrification of the area (Ch...Ch...Ch...Changes) ended the first act, but I was still reeling from the sinuous romance of the double trapeze act from Mélanie Dupuis and Xander Taylor. It was a real showstopper. 

The second half opened in the circus of Chinatown, complete with Chinese pole, obviously. Chinese pole is Alessio Motta's core discipline, and it was great to see him in action on it and the body popping he brought into play. There was also a beautiful interlude of Alessio's contact juggling; he had an air of Marcel Marceau with all the magic of Bowie in Labyrinth. Martial arts were drawn into the definition of Chinatown, and were deftly executed by Anton Simpson-Tidy, whose precision of movement was impressive. From there we moved onto the spa rituals involved in prepping for a night on the town, and Camille Tremblay's stellar contortion and hand balancing on the rim of a bath-tub (a bar of soap was the top of a handstand cane, so clever!), was a class act that got us all in a lather. Next stop was Madame Jojo's, rather poignant as at the time this show was conceived it would still have been going strong. It was a joy to see Rebecca Rennison's burlesque turn on dance trapeze, powerfully strong with the supple lines of a ballerina. I thought diva hip-hop dancer Kayla Lomas-Kirton in a Motown glory of technicoloured sequins was terrific, and Danny Ash was the cherry on top. Danny strutted in wearing a high-cut teal, spangled leotard, feathers  - plucked from The Peacock?! - ruffled by long blonde locks, lip synching with full sass, and letting rip on silks in staggering silver heels. Wow! Meanwhile Leah Wolff on aerial hoop threw a neat spin on the male gaze by encircling the guys, there to salivate over her, in a stunning routine of dizzying proportions, but with a giant eye in the background, who was watching whom? Moving onto The Colony Rooms captured the louche glamour of yesteryear while watching Xander Taylor return to trapeze and strip down to his briefs I found myself blushing in the dark. 

That the show should end on the conceit that Soho is a state of mind made me laugh, as I've been saying that about circus for years. It explains why the two make such natural bedfellows, as both Soho and circus communities have, historically, operated on the margins of society, welcoming in those on the fringes, whether in terms of nationality, sexuality or simply just because. It was lovely to see a show that celebrated that spirit with Pride. 

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