Review – Black Cat Cabaret: Bohemia – Underbelly Festival

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It’s rare that I get to review a show I was interested in see, but this was my great luck – to be invited to opening night of the Black Cat Cabaret’s new show, Bohemia. I’d been alerted to their upcoming run at the Underbelly Festival by a friend who pointed it out as the kind of louche night out I enjoy; and, boy, of the various circus cum cabaret evenings I’ve seen over the last several years at this venue, Bohemia absolutely takes the cake as the best combination of movement, music, and sheer pizazz since I saw the puppy play segment of Briefs back in 2014. Black Cat is running the tightest, freshest presentation of circus based performance right now, the ultimate flowering of the hot bed of burlesque/drag/queerness/physical performance that IS London right now, and only this particular sexually charged petri dish could have produced it. Let me describe for those who might be of a more suspicious nature.

The evening opened with our fabulous, sexalicious compere, Frisky giving us a narrated tour of the life of bohemians throughout the ages, hitting Montmartre, of course, but also the sixties and even Manchester of the eighties. This provided an excuse to sing “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love, ” and … well, do you remember hearing how Grace Slick’s voice was ruined early in her career and you never got those candy-sweet tones you heard on vinyl? WELL I HEARD THAT SONG SPUN LIKE SWEET FLUFFY FLOSS and it rocked out.

The performers were a mixed bag of artists – an easy to love hoop dancer, a muscular man who did aerial silks, a fire breather who looked like the daughter of Ming the Merciless (Hayley Harvey-Gomez), and an alcoholic (supposedly) trapeze-type artist (Katharine Arnold) whose antics overhead as Frisky ordered her (in song), “Entertain us! Here we are now, entertain us!” in gorgeously redux Nirvana style …

literally brought me to tears. Early in the evening, the gorgeous Leon Fagbemi, the second featured act, came on stage doing a flip in the air and, you see, missed his landing. His feet were underneath him but I could see he’d landed wrong, and apparently he really hurt himself, although he kept his face completely straight as he walked off into the darkness …

leaving the rest of the cast to figure out how do we get this back together. And they carried on, like the professionals we were, and we did that thing we do, like hungry audiences, not caring very much but wanting to be entertained. And they literally gave us everything, and watching “Danger K” spinning around in the air above me, I thought, they really are in a different world; they give us their bodies and we give them just a tiny big of money and then suddenly we decide we’re not there for them anymore. Our beautiful, talented, wonderful London artists’ community, we just really don’t love them like we ought to, and there I was, sitting in the audience after this had happened, and Frisky was telling all of us that every one of them knows we only love them for four minutes and then we move on. And it was unbearably beautiful and sad and I got teary.

But hey. I hadn’t had enough sleep. That was it.

The overall quality of the performances was technically very high, with inventive executions (and clever narration) that I felt moved the entire show a notch above the usual burlesque performance or even modern circus. But you know what clinched it? Frisky’s voice. My God. One whole star just for the pleasure of hearing her sing, and the incredibly appropriate and thoughtful music she chose. Which would mean I give this show five stars, if I gave stars, with I don’t. But you know what I did do? I went back and reserved a table for two weeks later, because YES I liked that much and YES Leon I want to see you perform (and be well!) and YES YES YES there is nothing sexier than a giant YES PLEASE for Black Cat: Bohemia. See you in two Fridays.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place Thursday, August 30th, 2018. It continues through September 30th.)

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