It’s all change at Cafe de Paris. Resident guest show The Wam Bam Club has departed, and the venue now has its own new shows, produced in-house. One of these is Showtime, a supper club cabaret with the option of a three course dining experience, which I thoroughly enjoyed. If you’ve never been to Cafe de Paris, you may still have seen images of the intimate little stage embraced by two curved staircases taking you down into the dining area, which could be the first class deck on an opulent ocean liner. Beautifully lit and arranged, luxurious and comfortable; it is without doubt one of the most glamorous venues in town. The dishes I chose from the decent range of options (which included roast chicken, mushroom soup, sea bass and tarte tatin) were rich and comforting. The service didn’t feel at all rushed and the staff were smiling, smart and attentive.
As host for the evening, cheeky Londoner Jeff Leach appeared to have the happy knack of getting an audience on side quickly before he started firing shots. Milking gender stereotypes and mocking and probing into audience members’ sex lives and dress sense (sometimes the audience really makes a show, and there were more than a couple of very good sports that night), Leach wandered off course once or twice, but overall he was a successful host who maintained a sense of energy and spontaneity as the evening went on. If you can handle a side dish of fisting and anal sex jokes with your champagne and sea bass, you’ll be fine with Jeff.
I’ll get straight to the burlesque before you start getting withdrawal symptoms. London sweethearts The Folly Mixtures fulfilled the showgirl quota of the evening. Their opening routine was somewhat deliberate and ‘by numbers’, but I understand it is new and I’m sure it will become more assured and fluid in time. Their ‘Milkshake’ routine in the second half was a stronger demonstration of their signature fun and frivolity. In addition, Liberty Sweet stepped out from the Folly chorus to perform a competent, flirtatious fan dance. Quick tip of the hat to newish Folly Mixture recruit Ella Boo, who joined the troupe towards the end of last year, for her winning smile and playful poise. Burlesque performer Millie Dollar presented us with a fire display instead of her more typical striptease, but I think greater variety, stronger characterisation and energy would create a more developed, engaging routine. The highlight was the creative Crimson Skye, who brought out her inner stud muffin to hilarious effect. So many little details and gestures make her routine memorable; in fact, it won her an award at last year’s Texas Burlesque Festival. Her presence may not be immediately obvious, but she reveals herself in due course.
There were two contrasting musical offerings. Drink-stealing, man-mounting Dolores Delight injected a healthy shot of energy and infectious charisma into proceedings, delivering upbeat retro songs with her usual distinctive, confident vocals. Comedian Christian Reilly delivered the musical equivalent of one-liner impressions, and alternative lyrics to popular songs, but the act didn’t go much further than that and I found the repertoire a bit hit and miss. Went down a treat in the house, though.
Finally, we enjoyed some highly entertaining circus routines. The Amazing Ari, a lean, tattooed cowboy manipulating soft flowing silks with poise and control, demonstrated with captivating agility that a man is equally capable of creating beautiful, fluid, sensual shapes as his aerial sisters. The second half of the show, which was definitely strongest overall, built to a dazzling climax with Pixel-Poi masters Feeding The Fish, who performed a flawless juggling segment and created stunning effects with their intriguing glowing wands. Stars, flowers and butterflies danced vividly in the air, provoking childlike gasps of enjoyment, and as a final flourish they projected the Cafe de Paris logo. Nice touch.
I was extremely impressed to find a new show which seems to have found its feet and achieved an extremely well balanced selection of variety acts in a very short amount of time. The standard of burlesque on offer could do with some more development, but it’s light and fun and fits in with the overall style of the evening. I can honestly say I’d be happy to sit down for dinner and enjoy this show month after month.
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.