Black Cat: Bohemia
Underbelly Festival Southbank
Reviewed – 30th August 2018
“a true celebration of cabaret and circus that bursts like a champagne cork, soaking up the audience in a spray of glory“
“The Black Cat” has been slinking into sites across London for over a decade now. Venues as diverse as they are decadent. Taking its name from the original ‘Le Chat Noir’, the first French cabaret show, they describe themselves as purveyors of dark and daring cabaret; bringing together the cream of dancers, singers and comics across the capital.
Their latest show, “Black Cat: Bohemia”, adds highly skilled circus performers into the mix; and the show, running at the Spiegeltent on London’s South Bank, transports you into an absinthe-soaked underworld somewhere between Belle Époque Montmartre and Berlin’s Kit Kat Club. It is a heady cocktail of beauty and talent, a gorgeous concoction of circus skills, comedy and risqué artistry.
The flame-headed diva and songstress, Miss Frisky, is the emcee for the night. Opening with a well-known quote from Oscar Wilde – “Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art” – she delights us with a potted history of ‘Bohemia’ before introducing the acts. She is a star in her own right: a big voice on the cabaret scene, but when she sings her voice can melt the heart too. With complete command of the audience I could have easily listened to her bawdy banter all evening, but she knows exactly when to pull back and let the performers take centre stage.
It is a night at the circus like no other from a shadowy band of show-folk who combine flair and virtuosity with self-deprecating humour. Jo Moss (Slippin’ Jo) is first to roll up, literally, in his cyr wheel. Not only setting the wheels in motion he sets the bar for the evening, and we know we’re in for some high-class acts. There is the delightful double-act of the ‘knaves’: Nicolas Jelmoni and LJ Marles. Yet it’s when they tear themselves away from each other that they truly shine: Marles as he reaches the heights of the big top with his aerial tension straps, while Jelmoni’s svelte acrobatics are more earthbound but no less breath-taking – particularly during a jaw-dropping dance duet with Charlotte O’Sullivan. Combining a cool, feline detachment with enticing sexiness, O’Sullivan defies the laws of gravity in the hands of partner Jelmoni.
Similarly, Katharine Arnold (aka Danger K) swings from the rafters in her aerial hoop in a daredevil display that, like all the evening’s performers, is enhanced with a narrative that emerges from their understated and unflashy acting abilities. Staggering onstage with a bottle of vodka in hand, Arnold makes a convincing drunk, a pretence that she takes up into the air with her making the performance that much more thrilling. “Just because something is untrue – does that make it any less real?” asks Miss Frisky in an echo to her opening address about truth and art.
But there is no doubting the reality of the flames that blaze through Hayley Harvey-Gomez’s (Missy Fatale) routine as she merges bursts of burlesque with fire-eating in an explosive fashion. Mention must also be made of Leon Fagbemi, ‘The Maestro’, who unfortunately sustained an injury at the outset of his act, yet with utter professionalism incorporated it into the routine, seamlessly cutting it short and exiting with a dignity that could convince the audience that nothing untoward happened. We wish him a speedy recovery.
This is an unforgettable show, underscored by the carnival stomp of the house band. It is a true celebration of cabaret and circus that bursts like a champagne cork, soaking up the audience in a spray of glory. Unmissable.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Black Cat: Bohemia
Underbelly Festival, Southbank until 30th September