The literal translation of ‘La Clique’ from the French describes a group of people who are “friendly with each other but exclude others”. Tip number one: pay absolutely no attention to that definition when attending “La Clique”, the alternative cabaret-come-circus show at the Spiegeltent in Leicester Square. Expect the complete opposite. The show couldn’t be more inclusive if it tried. Tip number two: get there early if you want to secure a front row seat. Provided, that is, you like the idea of being soaked by the foamy bath water of a near-naked Burlesque songbird, or straddled by a highly toned aerialist in nothing but sequined trunks enjoying his moment of post-crucifixion passion. (Tip number three: if this doesn’t sound like your thing then either; a) stop reading now or b) make it your thing – you don’t know what you’re missing).
Born at the Edinburgh Festival back in 2004, the Olivier award-winning “La Clique” created its own genre with its mix of circus, cabaret, music and mayhem; topped with irreverence, sexiness and mind-blowing thrills. It has since travelled the world with its extended family of performers that represent the cream of the cabaret and circus scene. Wandering into the Spiegeltent in Leicester Square is like straying into an alternative wonderland, away from the tourists. An intimate world. A club in which you belong, and the penny drops. “La Clique” is faithful to its definition. It is the outside world that is excluded, and you are immersed within, and embraced by, this eccentric family.
There appears to be nobody in charge. No MC. Each performer is calling the shots. Miss Jolie Papillon appears like magic. The ‘Bird of Oceana’, with aquamarine feathers not quite concealing the climax of her exotic routine. Later returning with her bathtub burlesque (see above). A grotesque hospital patient transforms into the beauty that is aerialist Katharine Arnold. This show is not just about technique and virtuosic skill. It is performance art. Theatre. Spectacle. Arnold returns to the ring with Hugo Desmarais with a unique and exquisite display of passion and synchronicity, suspended high above the crowd, defying gravity with the ultimate wickedness.
Ashley Stroud, on the surface, has fewer tricks up her sleeve. The magic lies in the beauty – of body and soul. And voice. Mikael Bres takes pole dancing to another level, merging acrobatics, dance, drama and his mastery of the Chinese Pole. Comic relief comes from Sam Goodburn with his unicycle and slapstick reverse striptease. (Tip number four: avoid the front row if you’re at all fussy about where a biscuit has been before you eat it). Tara Boom is the popcorn seller from Hell – or Heaven, depending on your penchants. An act that should come with every Government health warning imaginable.
Whether these are highlights or whether I’ve managed to cover the whole line up is irrelevant. Every moment is a highlight. A revolution and a revelation. A place where you can leave your troubles outside. In the Spiegeltent life is beautiful. Sensuous, sensual and sexual. Thrilling and awe-inspiring. And unpredictable, sometimes dangerous. You smile, gape and laugh in equal measure. Entertainment is taken to the edge. And it takes you with it. Unmissable. (Tip number five: see tip number three – part b).
“Brooks practically steals the show with her soul-stirring “No Woman, No Cry”.
There’s a backline of oversized speakers, on which the cast and musicians sway to the beat while Bob Marley bounces downstage to take the microphone. Over the vamping, pulsating music, Marley introduces the cast members, inviting applause for each name check. We are definitely in gig territory here – not one of the oldest, most elaborate West End theatres. A sensation reinforced by the stripped back narrative that follows. The music is key. But like with Marley himself, it serves the purpose of getting the message across in ways that mere words cannot achieve.
David Albury bears a striking resemblance, physically and vocally. He is the alternate Bob Marley, but the role seems to have been written for him alone as he takes us on the journey of one of the most popular, yet most misunderstood, musicians in modern culture. Marley has achieved immortality, but some argue that his image is commercialised and diluted. “Get Up Stand Up!” gives us a glimpse of the real deal. The ghetto kid who believed in freedom. And fought for it. The convert to Rastafari. The kid sent away by his mother to Kingston for a better life. The ambassador of love, loss and redemption. The victim of an assassination attempt who headlined the ‘One Love’ Peace Concert in 1978, receiving the United Nations Peace Medal of the Third World. The cancer victim. But we also catch sight of the misogyny, the carelessness and self-absorption that affected those closest to him – namely his wife, Rita (Gabrielle Brooks), and long-term girlfriend, Cindy Breakspeare (Shanay Holmes).
The most revealing and poignant moments of the evening are provided by Brooks and Holmes. Hearing Marley’s words resonate from these two formidable women’s voices adds layers of compassion, tenderness, and bitterness. Brooks practically steals the show with her soul-stirring “No Woman, No Cry”.
Marley’s somewhat questionable attitude towards women is certainly thrown into the spotlight, and while writer Lee Hall tries to mitigate by highlighting Marley’s ‘marriage to the band’, we never really get a sense of what makes him tick. As mentioned, we do only get the broad outlines. The dialogue between the numbers does tend to assume we know so much already. But with such a wealth of material that’s probably a necessity, and it does spur us on to do our own homework. In the meantime, we can relish in the sheer energy of Clint Dyer’s production. It is a jukebox musical that never feels like one. Marley’s songs are the soundtrack to his life, so obviously make the perfect soundtrack to this sweeping panoramic vision of a visionary artist. Dyer races through the story, but occasionally stops the track to zoom in and focus on particular moments. Marley watches his younger self (brilliantly played by Maxwell Cole) leave the family home, while later on the young Marley stands by to witness his older self receive his cancer diagnosis.
These moments of unconventionality never detract from the ‘concert’ feel of the show. And, after all, it is the songs that tell the story. Shelley Maxwell’s choreography is stunning but, with an eye on a West End audience, occasionally mismatched to the material. But the roots are still there, just as Marley stayed true to his own roots even when Chris Blackwell of Island Records (Henry Faber) sensed a need to reach out to the predominantly white, British audience in the 1970s.
The set list is comprehensive, including lesser known, more lyrically challenging numbers along with the signature tunes we know and love. As the evening slows down to a plaintively acoustic “Redemption Song” we see the intoxicating mix of the gentle and the explosive that coexisted within Marley’s spirit. And his spirit is in full attendance throughout the night. The crowd can’t fail to follow the command of “Get Up Stand Up” during the rousing encore.