BLACK CAT CABARET: NOCTURNE – London Wonderground, London
A man stumbles through an oncoming crowd of commuters on his way to work. Just before his train arrives at Waterloo, he hears a voice inviting him to close his eyes, and let his subconscious mind take over. This is the (quite thin, I suppose, but I’ve seen thinner) premise for the new Black Cat Cabaret show, Nocturne.
The statuesque Lili La Scala ushers us into her domain of sultry performance and exotic frocks in which the only logic is the uncertain and troubling one of dreams.
Lili has a surprisingly good voice with a range that you could describe as semi-operatic (with a sometimes startling change of register), but she does make the most of her numbers at the same time as establishing her knowing, sexually aware persona. The music is a little over-amped, but this being London Wonderground with an audience of predominantly young South Bank revellers in attendance, the atmosphere was good-humoured and lively, to match, though not always, the spectacular electric storms outside.
Lili’s world is the one in which the performances can blossom, fuelled by all that sub-conscious energy. So anything goes, and the repertoire combines the alarming with the outrageous (though not too much so, unless you are offended by nudity) in a collision of Sunday Night at the London Palladium and Billy Smart’s Circus.
It’s not too much of a surprise then to be woken out of your reverie by a roller-skating mother (Abi Collins), whose act, the drunk on roller skates in a tiny performance space, is a small example of wonderful circus skill in a long tradition, perhaps honed by years of tireless work in Starlight Express. Even then, to have her begin to play (very spiritedly and still on those skates) the ukulele, came from a long way out of left field to both surprise and delight the audience who simply want to be entertained.
What else do we have? Aerial daredevil (and star of La Soirée) Bret Pfister swinging around in a determined manner from a suspended hoop in a performance of muscular dexterity; hand-to-hand acrobatic duo Nathan and Isis; fire performer, contortionist and aerialist Katrina Lilwall sporting nipple caps; and the dance trio Cabaret Rouge, doing Pan’s People routines in scanty costumes that could have come from pre-war Germany.
The musical director is Michael Roulston and the director is Secret Cinema and Donmar Warehouse director and National Theatre magical consultant Simon Evans, so you would expect a lot of presence and impact – maybe a little more than it actually delivered.
Nocturne is very frenetic and quirky, and if cabaret is your thing, then this is a comprehensive display of its varied and skilful components. London Wonderground isn’t a great venue largely because its seating not raked, so it’s advisable to join the queue early if you want a good view, even though the wait is a long one. The audience were a good-humoured bunch, but hopefully the later-than-billed start time and lack of organisation will tighten up as the run goes on.
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By Michael Spring
Various Friday nights until 11th September 2015
London Wonderground, London SE1 8XX.