"You're not on drugs - this is really happening!", says a tall, middle-aged gay man who styles himself as Scotty the Blue Bunny, dressed in an all-in-one lycra costume, complete with bunny ears. There are lots of other times when you might want to pinch yourself, too, in the course of La Soiree, that this is really happening - when one man does a handstand on another's head, for example, or an entirely naked woman manages to produce a red handkerchief from a very intimate part of her body.
The first is an act new to London; the other two are old favourites The English Gents and Ursula Martinez, who are a regular part of the dysfunctional family that is La Soiree. This inimitable and irresistible burlesque cabaret is celebrating its 10th year now, and as they return for their 5th season in London through to January, they are offering a blend of the familiar and the brand-new that makes this the best family show I can think of (though its strictly for adults only).
As ever, this means there's always something new to see and means that repeat views are not only always enjoyable, they're actually obligatory. I've seen this show everywhere from New York to Sydney as it has criss-crossed the globe (it has now played in 14 countries on 4 continents, and over 25 cities), and I love it for its unashamed and life- affirming celebration of life in all its different colours. Being different here isn't to be odd; it's to be embraced. Maybe it is a freak show; but what freaks! It's enough to make you want to be one yourself and join the family.
I'm not going to describe the acts more than I have already, because part of the pleasure of it is the constant air of surprise. Another is the seamlessness and variety with which it is stitched together by host and creative producer Brett Haylock. Suffice it to say, this is not a pre-packaged circus of sheer skill like Cirque du Soleil, but one with real heart and soul.
That's not to say that there isn't phenomenal skill on display, whether with props like diabolos, hula hoops, juggling skittles or a trapeze bar. But they all, intriguingly, serve something else: an expression of character as well as talent. You feel like each is providing a window into their souls. They also honour yet subvert some of the circus norms, like the sad clown who here becomes a figure of unbearable pathos.
Regularly fearless and sometimes frank (there's a lot of bare flesh on display, both male and female), this is also the sexiest show in town. And the gorgeous venue - a classic mirrored Spiegeltent — adds to the sublime pleasure of the evening. Unmissable.