Review - Channing Tatum's Magic Mike Live at the Hippodrome Casino
Back in the day I've seen male strippers, of various stripes, at Leicester Square's London Hippodrome: in the 80s, when Stringfellow ran it as a nightclub, there was a gay night where, one night, I saw the late gay porn star Leo Ford make an appearance; while this century, the venue hosted a London season for La Soiree, the subversive burlesque show that featured artful stripping (from all genders).
But with its conversion to a glamorous 24-hour casino, planning permission required this former theatre to retain a live performance space, which when it first opened included an elegant cabaret room that was originally excitingly programmed with top-flight singers from Broadway, the West End and beyond that made it into one of my favourite London cabaret spots.
Now, however, it is returning to baser roots and turned itself, at no small expense, into London's most glamorous male strip joint. This completes the Vegas-ification of the venue as a den for gambling, drinking and lusting, but all in a strictly controlled artful environment. This stage franchise of the Magic Mike films that told the autobiographical story of the life of Florida stripper-turned-movie star Channing Tatum began its life in Vegas in 2017, and now brings a little bit of Vegas bump and grind(r) to the heart of the West End.
As created, co-produced, co-scripted and and co-directed by Tatum himself, it is targeted entirely at a female demographic - a girls' night out to allow them to celebrate their own sexuality. But given that its co-writer is another man (Reid Carolin), its largely about what men think women want: a bunch of preening (but sensitive) peacocks put on display whose feathers can be literally ruffled when they come amongst the audience and offer variously sweaty lap dances.
There's lots of rippling, washboard stomached male flesh on display to be sure (though no actual nudity, unless you count a bum). There's a notable absence of body hair on any of the men - the most that one could master was a happy trail from his belly button to his waist - and a generic quality to their look. Though one or two may sport long manes of hair (and a tattoo or two), there's mostly a wholesome, squeaky-clean quality to them all. You can literally smell the soap.
A shrill Northern lass, meanwhile, is our guide and companion to each of the vignettes, a bit like Sheridan Smith without the charm or talent. She's presumably intended to be the avatar of the audience's own coarse desires, licensing them to imagine themselves as part of its fantasies.
But for all the spectacular lighting (Philip Gladwell) and an industrial set of bridges and platforms that reconfigure themselves endlessly against Luke Halls' video design, there's also a repetitive quality to the show, a relentless series of strips and dance routines that repeat the same formula again and again.
It would only be fair to report that the well-lubricated audience went wild (drinks are served in bucket-like glasses, and waiter service continues throughout the show), but I found this tame show about as sexy as I'd imagine a night on the tiles with Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage to be, but with better choreography.
Magic Mike Live is at the Hippodrome Casino until October 2019.