Last night, on a whim, I took my sister and husband to the opening night of La Clique at the London Hippodrome. To be honest, I was somewhat motivated by the fact that since it was opening night, I could get a “scoop” on my blog. Now, I’m not so low that I’ve gone to writing stories with search keywords like “Britney Spears Naked!” or “9-11 Conspiracy Revealed!” in this blog in order to improve my traffic (see this article by Charlie Brooker to get the joke), but I have to realize there’s a lot to be said about writing a review of a show early in the run rather than the day before it closes. So I pinched my nose, forked over 30 quid a pop for tickets (standing at 10 was a big “no”; I was hoping for the 20 quid “stool” seats, but they’d all gone by 6 PM the night of the show), and in we went, moths flying out of my pocket as we walked in the door. (NOTE: Friday 10:30 PM tickets can be had for £10 with promo code STA: book at LoveTheatre.com.)
Venue first, as I figure no one has really been in the Hippodrome unless they were clubbing in the late 80s: the entrance is right on the corner of the block of buildings on the east side of Charing Cross’s Leicester Square tube exit, and it’s most remarkable to see this big staircase heading off of the sidewalk in a place that’s only ever been a flat wall before. Up we went into a sort of reception area, with clots of people milling in front of a desk where we needed to exchange our tickets for wristbands indicating which area we’d paid to sit in (yes, it’s not reserved seating – we went in half an hour before showtime so we could get better seats than we would if we showed up closer to showtime). To the left was a bar area that had all sorts of food (such as pies), so a real dinner could easily be had here (though I preferred my Chinese food dinner at Red Hot, about three minutes up the street); to the right, a coat check area.
Inside the venue there was a circular depressed area seating about 250 people, backed by red curtains; in between the lowered seating area and the curtains was a smallish raised area containing what I think were the extra premium “seats with tables” (with flowers and candles on them) and a grand piano (off to the right); the nicest bar in the house appeared to be on this level, directly across from the curtains, and the seats kind of expanded out “behind” the little circular stage in the middle toward the bar.
Entrance to the venue was all stage left, and we continued on up to the seats and stools area. This was a balcony with four levels of seating, two of them tables (the ones lowest and closest to the stage were reserved, but apparently the second layer of tables would have been fine for people with my level of wristband if we’d been quick), the two further back rows of high backed chairs (which were all moved up to the glassed walls on the edge of our level of balcony to let us better see the action on stage – otherwise the balustrade was right at eye level). Behind all of these was another, less well equipped bar area (no port; wine 3.65 a glass), and a quite expansive ladies’ room. (What can I say, it’s a joy to not have to wait, and with about 15 stalls and a 1940s ambience, it was really much nicer than I expected.) We were too late to get a table, but took our places in the lower row of chairs and to the right of the stage.
If you are thinking of going, my advice is this: stools on the left to the house would be okay; all chairs and tables upstairs have a good view for all of the show; the premium tables downstairs have rather too many views of performer’s backsides; the seats really close to the stage are a DANGER ZONE and likely to result in you getting splashed or inadvertently involved in a performance; the lower seats close to the bar and facing the stage likely have a good view for everything. (I can’t say about the standing room tickets as I’m not sure where these people were shuffled off to.)
The evening opened with Cabaret Decadanse, who presented a puppet singing a disco song – pretty cute, well done, but not compelling for me as the puppetry wasn’t that amazing (I do see a lot of this stuff) and the music was recorded. If someone had been singing, that probably would have done it for me, but it wasn’t, so I sat there going, “Okay, I’m waiting to be sold on this show still!”
The next act was a “veddy English” balancing act, two guys in bowlers and suits, looking like they were fresh out of some Monty Python skit. I think the gag was that one was the butler to the other. Their skit, playing with umbrellas and canes and their hats, was a blast, and when (whoosh!) we suddenly got to see what they looked like under their suits, I was most impressed. Goodness! It’s just not what you expect of an English guy, to be ripped out like that, but then again most English guys don’t stand on each other’s head when they’re trying to share an umbrella, either. (It did make me miss my home town’s Circus Contraption, though – the strong man and the tiny, trusting girl-child just had a really powerful emotional impact on me that these guys couldn’t touch.)
My second favorite act of the night was “Mario, Queen of the Circus,” who juggled and did unicycle stuff while Queen songs were played. I admit, I’m a sucker for Queen, but there’s a lot to be said for acts that are in the small timeframe a rock song admits – you just can’t get bored of what’s happening. More importantly, though, he was a really good juggler – his stuff was timed to the music. I also enjoy the dichotomy of “art” and “rock and roll” – so often this stuff gets all pretentious and fruity and up its ass, but the Queen songs kept it fun and lively. Mario was on three times, and I really enjoyed seeing him every time.
Less exciting was “Captain Frodo,” whose a contortionist. His schtick of being inept kind of put me off of my balance, but he just didn’t put out a persona I felt was compelling. Admittedly, he was up against some very sexy competition (such as Ursula Martinez, the stripping magician – is it really legal to strip down to absolutely nothing in London?), but … I don’t know, maybe it was the sideburns or the mustache. At any rate, I didn’t go for his stuff, and it wasn’t just because watching him dislocate his elbows was hard on the stomach (though my sister had to flat out turn away from the stage).
The best act of the night was David O’Mer, the bathtub aerialist, who did this stuff with two silk rope-things hanging from over the stage where he rolled himself up the ropes just using his incredible muscles (first his arms, then his legs). He was the one who wound up splashing the front rows of the stage, who had a plastic splash curtain laid down in front of them. (This one very gay black guy dropped his and just revelled in getting splashed – I can see where that would have had its appeal!) O’Mer was just totally sexy and really had his act in top nick – there was no laziness or cue-missing, and he was mighty fine to watch. Phwoar! (And for the gents in the audience, if you didn’t have a good time with Ursula Martinez, there was also Yulia Pikhtina, the gorgeous, amazingly coordinated hula hooper, who was so classy I couldn’t believe she was Russian. Miss Behave was also back for another round, but I don’t think that her schtick is really the kind of thing that would get you that special feeling like O’Mer did for me.)
Most of the performers were on at least twice, which was good for some acts (Mario) but less so for others (Cabaret Decadanse’s “I Simply Cannot Do It Alone” from Chicago was awful, partially because you couldn’t see the performers leg and feet very well, but also because the puppet was dressed so cheaply that it just wasn’t compelling to watch in any way.) But in summary, it was a fun night but worth more like 20 quid rather than 30, and I would recommend it as really fun to do with a bunch of people after work.
(This review was for opening night, Friday, October 3, 2008. Apologies for the less than stellar writing, but I’m off to Italy in two hours and just can’t spare much time!)