Review: La Clique Noel

I’ve been going to the Fringe for almost 30 years and few shows have stayed longer in my mind than La Clique.

For me, it’s always been a show that makes me think about Camille O’Sullivan, the sultry Irish songstress whose playful and sensual vocals came to define La Clique for a whole generation of Fringers, writes Richard Bath.

So when La Clique Noel came to the Spiegeltent this Christmas, off we trundled to see what the latest incarnation of this marvellous institution – which styles itself as “a mix of cabaret, new burlesque, circus and contemporary vaudeville” – might give us.

The first person we met was a pal who had been taken to see the show two days before and loved it so much he was back for more. As for me, I found this to be an incarnation of La Clique with surprisingly variable quality – when it was good it was great; but when it wasn’t, it was hide-behind-the-sofa bad.

So first, the good stuff, which made up the vast majority of proceedings. We loved the audience baiting of kitsch eastern European MC Bernie Dieter, a woman who looks like Angelica Huston in Munsters mode and was once described as “a cross between Lady Gaga, Marlene Dietrich and Noel Fielding in sequins”.

La Clique Noel

Vicky Butterfly’s Hunger Games-influenced coat of many flashing colours was a great starter; Heather Holliday’s multiple sword swallowing and fire-eating provided a jaw-dropping main course; while faux strongman Craig “The Incredible Hula Boy” Reid’s hula-hoop antics made for an entertainingly frothy dessert. There were other high points too: singer Kelly Wolfgramm’s booming vocals kept the evening jogging along, while gymnasts Johnny Rey and Tim Kriegler both offered remarkable feats of strength and agility.

The bad stuff is easy to identify: it’s called Scott Grabell. Camping it up as a gay fiftysomething who crams their substantial frame into a lurid blue spandex bunny suit and porn star high heels is just not funny of itself. Audiences want to be invited to laugh at a performer’s wit and repartee, not at the their sexual orientation. This stuff may have worked twenty years ago – although to be honest I doubt it – but made me cringe and utterly baffled by 18-year-old daughter.

On the subject of my fellow reviewer, watch out for the last act, Leah Shelton. When it became clear that her act would climax with the nude Australian retrieving a hanky from a place from where hankies aren’t usually retrieved, I heard a faint but distinctly audible “please God, no!” from the teenager on my right. That moment of sheer, nails-down-a-blackboard embarrassment just about elevated an enjoyable 7/10 evening to an 8/10.