This year’s Christmas offering from the Looking Glass Productions arm of Black Cat Cabaret is Palace of the Snow Queen, which promises to deliver “…gourmet winter fayre, beautiful decor, and spectacular cabaret and circus entertainment.”
Usually dinner is served as part of the experience, but Saturday 6th December is a cabaret only evening at £25 per ticket. Unfortunately it seems that little thought has been put into how to entertain guests from the start time of 6pm until the entertainment begins at 8.30pm. The ‘experience’ up to that point begins with a brief, vague interaction with a faun in a shed. Once inside, guests are left to stand around in a room with an empty set and a few character actors in costume walking vacantly from point A to B and back again repeatedly with little eye contact or engagement. Eventually some festive but lukewarm mulled wine and some doorstop burgers are served outside, but at four and six pounds respectively on top of a ticket price which has purchased very little thus far, it feels a bit steep. A Prosecco reception and other activities were promised but fail to materialise.
At last, and with less than half of the guests able to secure a seat, the show begins. If you consider two fifteen minute segments a show. The first half consists of only two acts, followed by another lengthy 40 minute gap (in part because a fire alarm was triggered) before the second half commences.
Each segment begins with a narrator setting the scene, but it is mostly inaudible due to a low and inconsistent microphone level which plagues other performers frequently throughout. Additionally, the opening procession of musicians and the overlong, high-pitched twittering of musical duo Mazaika are drowned out by amateurish, synthesised backing tracks which spoil the efforts and effect of the live musicians and do nothing to boost production values.
Stephen Williams performs on aerial chains and exhibits impressive strength and control, but his act still feels like a demonstration of skills and moves rather than a flowing, choreographed routine. More circus comes from pint-sized contortionists Pixie le Knot and Yasmine Smith, who deliver only a competent example of their craft with shaky manoeuvres which are held too briefly to fully appreciate. It is, however, one of the more engaging attempts at storytelling.
The standout contribution of the evening comes from operatic songbird Lili La Scala who wins the crowd’s affection as a mischievous, lap-riding Sugar Plum Fairy. It’s an adaptable, widely successful piece here and elsewhere, but as a comedic routine rather than the best example of her considerable vocal talent. It briefly injects some much-needed charisma and quality.
Snow Queen Giddy Heights spends most of her time sat on her icy throne in a pretty costume presiding over her performing ‘prisoners’, but beyond a suitably regal tone of voice she doesn’t bring a great deal of substance to the role. She performs a short and not especially elegant dance when an escape is discovered, but then completely steps out of character and abandons the fairytale to deliver a lame rendition of Ice Ice Baby, sung unconvincingly over the original Vanilla Ice track (again, not aided at all by the low and ever changing microphone volume). Perhaps it is designed to lead into the dance party portion of the evening, but it’s an inconsistent, half-hearted attempt at a comedic ending.
We have come to expect much from some of the creative team behind Black Cat Cabaret, but this effort from Looking Glass Productions is as engaging and frustrating as watching ice melt. What a shame.
Palace of the Snow Queen reviewed by Holli-Mae Johnson.
Burlesque Hall of Fame / Miss Exotic World Judge, 2011 Holli Mae Johnson is the founder and editor of 21st Century Burlesque Magazine, a pioneering publication created twelve years ago to unite, document and celebrate the global burlesque community. Holli is actively involved in the burlesque community on a day to day basis and is privately consulted by performers and producers at every level for promotion, critique, recommendations and encouragement. As a documenter and critic, she has seen countless burlesque and variety performances from across the world and provides an intimate perspective and insight into the lives and careers of burlesque’s greatest pioneers, performers and personalities.