Saturday, May 20, 2006

Beautiful Freaks

La Clique, The Famous Spiegeltent, Brighton Festival, 17th May 2006

Billed as “A Sideshow Burlesque” La Clique has been a sell-out at every festival for the last few years. It has acquired the sort of mysterious reputation in which those who have seen it are unable to sufficiently describe it, and simply recommend it with a nod and a wink. Having finally managed to get tickets this year, I can see why. From what I had gathered about it, I knew I'd have to take my two most theatrical friends (not counting family), Damien and Natalie. So I grabbed some of the last few tickets and we met up at the atmospheric Spiegel Garden on a rainy Wednesday night. The tickets carried an 18 certificate, so we decided to avoid excessive embarrassment by steering clear of front row seats, and instead heading for one of the cosy 'booths', which have an excellent view, but preclude eye contact with the performers! We also bumped into Sham and James and a friend of theirs, so we huddled together, giggling and chattering in anticipation.

The first 'sideshow' to appear was Camille, a smoky-voiced French/Irish cabaret singer, who captivated us with an energetic, quirky performance of a song about carousels and ferris wheels. Then came Miss Behave, who continued to pop up in between the acts with humorous tricks that included 'swallowing' the leg of a cocktail table. As the only straight guy at our table, Ant felt rather left out when the rather dishy English Gentlemen amazed and aroused the rest of us with their unfeasibly controlled acrobatics, demonstrating the kind of strength and skill most of us would never have the patience to accomplish. Their finale had the girls and gay guys fanning themselves, as they stripped down to very tight Union Jack pants, revealing the most perfectly toned bodies any of us had ever seen – each muscle defined and rippling... a collective "phwoar" echoed around the tent. The straight boys had their moment when cheeky stripper/conjurer Ursula Martinez concealed a little hankie about her person, removing a piece of clothing each time until there was nowhere else to hide it - I'll let you guess from where it finally appeared! The other acts included a Russian hula-hoop dancer, special guests 'Olé' – a cod-Spanish troubadour band, and a transexual mime artist in nothing but pearls, flailing around to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (I didn't get this one).

Damien was understandably overcome by the final act, a pretty German gymnast called David O'Mer who appeared in a bath full of water, wearing only a pair of jeans, and proceeded to swing himself up onto long straps, splashing elegantly in and out of the bath in an acrobatic display which included doing the splits mid-air over the bath. This is one of those acts which is impossible to adequately put into words – Damien's reaction probably says it best: “I've seen some gay porn in my time, but that was the most erotic thing ever!”, or something along those lines. A charming mix of traditional circus skills, vaudevillian-style cabaret and risqué comedy, La Clique must be seen to be believed.

We stayed on for a bit of a boogie at the Festival club, doing our own unique brand of free-form jiving to a fabulous mix of Rock 'n Roll, Bluegrass and Northern Soul, in the convivial setting of the Spiegeltent – not bad for a school night. Natalie decided to stay over with us, having had a few pints of cider, and we realised that it would be the first time she'd stayed at my house since we were teenagers.

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