'La Clique' review — an intimate cabaret has fire, but lacks spark
Leicester Square is hell on earth. It's a crowded, noisy tourist trap, where crowds congregate to marvel at London's bright lights. Come the festive season though, and Leicester Square is transformed into a winter wonderland with its annual Christmas market. Sitting on the market's outskirts is the Leicester Square Spiegeltent, a specially erected performance space that's home to La Clique. The sizzling cabaret is a pick-n-mix of tantalising treats, and a show where — just like thinking about Santa Claus — anything is possible if you believe.
Like Six and The Shark is Broken, La Clique was born at the Edinburgh Fringe. The extravaganza has gone on to inspire a generation of circus shows, and the production claims to have influenced over 50 copycat cabarets worldwide. So there's a lot resting on La Clique's shoulders as it jubilantly returns to the capital for a Christmas season. While La Clique faithfully champions the wacky and wonderful, showcasing everything means the show loses out on being an eyebrow-raising tease. Instead, La Clique feels formulaic, ticking all the boxes rather than causing intrigue.
La Clique doesn't hit all the punches of a circus show, but that's not to the detriment of the world-class acts, who all command the stage with aplomb. Heather Holliday's sword swallowing and fire breathing tricks are genuinely jaw dropping, and her ability to flirt with the crowd like a vintage Cardi B had the audiences hooked. Skating duo The Skating Willers III spun around dozens of times in seconds, leaving everyone in a tizz. Ultimately though, for a show that regards intimacy between performers and audiences as the critical ingredient, La Clique lacks a spark.
If you volunteer as tribute to sit on the front row (as seats are unreserved) then you may get a moment with one of the acts. The woman sitting to my left screamed with delight at everything — a man jumping on stage was met with cheers. Sit close to the stage and you'll feel part of the action. Sit further back, and it may feel like you're a third wheel.
That's not helped by compère Bernie Dieter who expertly leads us through this sideshow, but doesn't do much to bring in the back rows. Dieter's hilarious schtick in her original numbers is met with laughs, especially a song about hand sanitising which should be sung before all shows. But the constant talking to the front row may leave others feeling like they're not a part of the action. The compère role feels slightly misplaced in La Clique too. You just want the circus acts to keep going, rather than listening to five-minute ballads. Inserting the compère every so often just leaves La Clique feeling incohesive.
The show's alluring mystery isn't helped with tricks you've probably seen before either, but you'll still smile. In particular, Craig Reid's lederhosen-wearing hula-hoop act had the audience clapping in sync like seals. Circus artists Hugo Desmaris, Mirko Köckenberger and LJ Marles also got the crowd hollering and whooping, especially when they soared through the air pulling off mindboggling tricks. During La Clique, you'll have a wonderful time seeing variety stars give their all to really put on a show.
In the moment, I thoroughly enjoyed the acts, but as I left the Spiegeltent's delirium, the show's attempt to be family-friendly, sexy, funny, lighthearted, and serious just left me confused. With Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club and Circus 1903 back in town, La Clique is the smaller relative that wants everyone to remember she's still here. Enjoy La Clique with a tipple or two and it's a great night out, neatly packaged in the heart of Leicester Square. But don't go expecting a raunchy show that's at boiling point; it's a tepid treat.
Photo credit: Bernie Dieter (Photo by Craig Sugden)
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