Cabaret at the edge
A refreshing spray of water cools the first four rows as acrobatic bather Bath Boy whirls and twirls high above a clawfoot bath, playfully splashing down when audiences least expect it.
Pupils dilate as devilishly cute performer Jess Love spins a series of hula-hoops and ripple ropes. Jaws drop as cult burlesque dancer Ursula Martinez makes a hanky disappear during her hilariously hot striptease. And bellies jiggle with laughter as the wickedly wrong comedian Asher Treleaven blends sexual banter with physical comedy.
Those are just four of the acclaimed acts that make up the world-renowned La Soiree — variously described as sexy circus, contemporary cabaret, vivacious vaudeville and provocative variety — which makes its Perth debut as the headline act of next year’s Fringe World Festival.
“It will be bigger than anything that’s played at Perth Fringe World before, ” says La Soiree host, producer and co-founder Brett Haylock of the immersive, inclusive celebration of weird and wonderful performers.
“Plus, it’s our 10-year anniversary tour, so we’re planning to bring 10 to 11 big international acts, including our contortionist comedian Captain Frodo, our dapper British strongmen The English Gents and our preening puppet divas Cabaret Decadanse.
“It’s all performed on a tiny 2.5m round stage, which the audience surrounds, and it has a cracking pace. If something isn’t your cup of tea, five minutes later something new is on stage that will be. And they all endear themselves to the audience and capture their imagination.”
Indeed, La Soiree has swept the globe since growing out of a Melbourne cabaret club to win the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for best entertainment in 2009, the Adelaide Fringe Festival pick of the fringe in 2012 and the Off Broadway Alliance best unique theatre experience in 2014.
Their phenomenal success has kept them from performing in Perth — until now.
“We intended to play Perth in 2011, ” Haylock explains, “but our performances at the Sydney Opera House became the talk of the town, so we stayed for a summer circuit, smashing box-office records and becoming the longest running show in the history of the Opera House.”
La Soiree continued to play at the House for the following three summers and now comes directly from a sell-out season at London’s South Bank. Yet few know that Haylock, 43, created La Soiree almost by accident at an underground club in Melbourne.
“I had been programming and managing a Melbourne festival club and was seeing all these extraordinary artists at the top of their game. I felt really strongly about doing a late-night spot where all these manic artists who didn’t have a home could come together under one umbrella. And anything could happen. There could be nude tap dancers on the bar and things would just pop up.
“All these performers came from the edges of the performing- arts world, be it the street, the underground, the downtown clubs of Manhattan or the cooler clubs of Soho.
“We were fumbling our way through on pure instinct but we knew these acts were amazing and needed to be crafted together. And that was the genius of it — there was no real template to copy.”
Haylock took his new troupe to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2004 as a tiny midnight cabaret show and “something completely magical happened”.
“It just ignited. You couldn’t get a ticket.”
Ten years later and La Soiree now boasts a rotating roster of 30-40 acts to choose from, thus staying fresh, flexible and dynamic. Critics have said it has brought burlesque back and made contemporary cabaret and circus sexy and accessible for a whole new generation.
“What we did, in hindsight, was take the age-old format of variety and put a contemporary twist on it, thus making it relevant to a whole new generation. It’s subversive cabaret for this age. It’s sped up, sexed up.”
La Soiree performs from January 28-February 22 at the Pleasure Garden, Palais des Glaces Spiegeltent, Russell Square, Northbridge; Fringe World runs from January 23- February 22. Visit fringeworld.com.au for details.
© The West Australian
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