Last Friday, with just over a week left of the outstanding London Wonderground 2014 season, feisty songbird Lili La Scala brought Another Fucking Variety Show, fresh from a run at the Edinburgh Fringe, to the South Bank Spiegeltent for the first of two dates. Boasting an enviable lineup of first-rate entertainers delivering song, striptease, circus and silliness, it certainly delivers on the variety front and is far from just another example of the format.

Lili La Scala, hosting the evening in big hair and a sumptuous range of even bigger frocks, has placed herself firmly centre stage in this production, which makes the effectiveness of her pacing and delivery crucial. Witty, self-deprecating and ever ready to make an inelegant spectacle of herself for our amusement, she keeps up a playful rapport with her mischievous pianist and there’s a pleasant family feel to their interaction, no doubt cemented and refined during their recent Edinburgh stint. She has a tendency to digress at times and stretch out the transitions between numbers unnecessarily, which makes the energy lull here and there, but for the most part her assured persona and quick wit keep things bouncing along. Best known for her powerhouse vocal, she sings a number of contemporary anthems, all given suitable cabaret treatment. She kicks off with Beatles classic Come Together, which doesn’t showcase the depth of her talent as well as later numbers, but her running order seems deliberately designed to build the skill and intensity to a satisfying finale. The highlight is her well known version of Radiohead’s Creep; the audience is spellbound and silent as she delivers a superbly controlled, haunting performance. She sends us home with a swaggering, key climbing rendition of Oasis’ The Importance of Being Idle.

Lili La Scala in Another Fucking Variety Show at London Wonderground 2014.  ©Mat Ricardo
Lili La Scala in Another Fucking Variety Show at London Wonderground 2014. ©Mat Ricardo

Award winning showman Mat Ricardo leads up to his famous and fantastically slick tablecloth pull with some incredible feats of skill. No matter how many times you see him in action he still manages to keep you on the edge of your seat, braced for a possible mistake that never comes. We are deprived of one of the displays on this occasion due to an irritatingly persistent stag party at the back, but he takes no prisoners and keeps the rest of the audience on side with his usual professionalism and natural authority.

Mat Ricardo in Another Fucking Variety Show at London Wonderground 2014.  Courtesy of Mat Ricardo
Mat Ricardo in Another Fucking Variety Show at London Wonderground 2014. Courtesy of Mat Ricardo

Burlesque performer Aurora Galore commits without compromise to her distinctive, often bizarre signature style, which recently won her ‘Most Innovative’ at the prestigious Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend Tournament of Tease. She struts, twerks, and dances down to her pasties at a relentless pace. Presenting a polar opposite is the legendary Vicky Butterfly in a luscious black cape, captivatingly still with a cigarette between her delicate fingers, before a pounding bass track kicks in and she reveals her dazzling light-up wings. Almost nude underneath from the start, she expertly teases each side of the audience in turn in what feels like a thrilling private peepshow. While she hasn’t seemed quite at the top of her game on some other occasions this year, she is back to her exquisite, tantalising best here, controlling precisely how much of her delectable figure we get to see and gradually increasing the level of exposure.

Vicky Butterfly in Another Fucking Variety Show at London Wonderground 2014.  ©Mat Ricardo
Vicky Butterfly in Another Fucking Variety Show at London Wonderground 2014. ©Mat Ricardo

Cirque du Soleil star Reuben Kuan presents a charismatic and well constructed routine, graduating from skilful and seemingly effortless ice cube and hat tricks to world class displays of strength and balance. Silent throughout but instantly charming, he cheekily demands repeat drink refills from a member of the audience as he holds increasingly taxing positions. Lili remarks that it’s a privilege to secure him for the evening, and it certainly feels like one.

Next up is Lili’s partner in love and show business, The Boy with Tape on His Face, armed with an endless bag of tricks and skits. With his mouth entirely covered his eyes do all the work, projecting every reaction, emotion and instruction to the back of the tent, be it alarm, a challenge, disdain, arrogance or arousal. With unexpected hilarity from such simple things as canoodling oven gloves and a pissing contest with tape measures, he is a big hit with the crowd, and while the routine is longer than most of the others he holds our attention.

Missa Blue in Another Fucking Variety Show at London Wonderground 2014.  ©Mat Ricardo
Missa Blue in Another Fucking Variety Show at London Wonderground 2014. ©Mat Ricardo

The final act comes from performance artist Missa Blue with her Kill Bill medley, involving a slow build to full nudity and a wince-inducing application of candle wax, with a high energy finish. While it never takes itself too seriously, the bold and explicit nature of the act doesn’t feel in keeping or connected with the rest of the show and mood up to that point, but if variety is the name of the game she certainly raises the stakes.

Another Fucking Variety Show is an inviting and highly enjoyable evening of gasp-worthy skill and inclusive humour which offers a laid back escape from the working week but still manages to keep you on your toes. The overall pace and length of transitions between numbers could be tightened up, but it’s a confident, solid production.

Another Fucking Variety Show at London Wonderground 2014 reviewed by Holli-Mae Johnson.

Catch the final show on Saturday 27th September at 21.30.