Ed Gosling

Ed entered the world of circus and cabaret by accident at the age of 19 and made it his home. After performing across the UK and Europe for several years he had a brief stint as a fiction editor before setting up Chivaree Circus which he now runs and performs with. He lives in a warehouse in east London filled floor to ceiling with performers and circus toys: this makes him very happy.

Review: The Cheek Of It’s The Bad Bunny Ball

The Bad Bunny Ball features ten first-time dancers as well as some more seasoned graduates from The Cheek of It burlesque school. The show is appropriately Easter-themed and held together by a vague and improbable narrative of mafia violence and bunny bloodshed acted out by our virgin starlets. The evening is hosted by Harold and Unice of the Ukelele Evangelists who strut, pose and sing in a deadpan stiff-upper-lip British style to songs like Independent Women by Destiny’s Child and give the proceedings a suitably ridiculous air.

Burlesque is very much like stand-up comedy: a fair number of gigs are required to find your feet and stand confident on stage either in front of the microphone or, in this case, with nipple tassels windmilling. It’s all a matter of learning how to engage your audience. Still, from this ball’s evidence, it appears that The Cheek of It have done a fine job in preparing their students to fearlessly de-robe. Funny, irreverent, naughty and, well, cheeky, the emphasis is predominantly more on playfulness than out-and-out seduction, something of a wise route to take.

All of the performances are strongly character driven by scenarios ranging from mad scientists and spring break seducers to uptight teachers. A particular highlight is a 50s lovestruck girl dreaming of her poster boy, featuring some tantalising vocals and a sensual dressing gown strip.

There is an absolute plethora of performances. On Madame Jojo’s very small stage, there are set pieces from a large number of individual dancers as well as two group routines featuring ten girls. Twenty tasselled tits in such a concentrated space is a lot to take in all of a sudden and provides a beautiful kaleidoscope of the female form. The sheer range of female underwear on display seems so much so that it is doubtful whether even a modern Casanova would ever be able to say confidently: “I have seen it all!”

As mission statements go, the Cheek of It’s “to delight in themselves as powerful, proud and fully self-expressed women” is a commendable one. All of the ball’s dancers manage to fearlessly display their talents, uninhibited by nerves or self-consciousness. A laudable ambition then, and one that seems to be working for the burlesque school as they go from strength to strength.

If you haven’t been to one of The Cheek of It’s revues before then it’s well worth a look to see some bright young talent readying themselves to go out into the cabaret world. It’s also a damn good bit of fun in a venue that is synonymous with burlesque and an historic place to start off a career in this artform.

Expect an enthusiastic and supportive crowd there; on the evening, the audience seemed peppered with wine-sodden friends and family pepped up and ready to cheer loudly for anyone even remotely approaching the stage. I’m sure the sound man had never felt so appreciated in his life before.

The Bad Bunny Ball. Produced by The Cheek Of It. Madame Jojo’s, London, W1F 0SE. 31st March 2013. http://www.cheekofit.co.uk

All photos: Zaki Charles

Review: Barry and Stuart’s Show And Tell

Magical duo Barry and Stuart demonstrate and then bare the inner workings of some of their most audacious tricks.

Barry & Stuart: more than meets the eye.
Barry & Stuart: more than meets the eye.

Award-winning comedy magicians Barry and Stuart have been steadily building up attention over the last few years. Cheeky and dark, the duo have worked the circuit as well as the small screen: one TV show famously saw them re-create some of Jesus’s most famous miracles to the ire of some clergy members. Brilliantly, one bishop called for “these fraudsters to try being crucified to see if they can rise three days later” – a wonderful epithet from a man of the cloth.

Show and Tell is a very literal name and an intriguing one being counter-intuitive to the standard magician behaviour. Surely they won’t reveal the secrets behind some of their most famous tricks? Surely, they will and, in this show, do.

Barry and Stuart do make it clear that the show is split into two definite parts. In the first half, the duo dazzle the audience with a set of astounding magic tricks. The audience is then given the option to leave if they don’t want their illusions replaced with reality before a second half in which each trick shown before the break is carefully deconstructed. Unsurprisingly, the theatre is just as full for the second act. The allure of forbidden knowledge is one that stretches back to the Garden Of Eden: we don’t want to know, but we can’t not take a peek.

The show was first given a run during the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe but none of the material has lost its novelty or relevance. There’s the usual cards, ropes and other elements of the run-of-the-mill conjurer’s caboodle but, interestingly enough, Facebook and Twitter are used as part of some tricks making this a elegant mixture of old fashioned British variety and magic for the twenty-first
century.

If anything, the “Tell” is as entertaining as the show. The tricks are so complex and full of clever stages that they seem just as impressive after you know how they were achieved as when they are first performed. Multiple techniques are strung together for each trick. The misdirection and sleight of hand are particularly deft that being able to actually see it for once feels rewarding. Having said that, there’s far more than physical shenanigans at play here as office machinery and chemistry are employed to pull off apparently impossible stunts.

All the while, the pair provide the tricks’ backstories and inspirations, giving us a flavour of how their thought processes. Show and Tell really is a demonstration of two magicians gleefully letting you into their private worlds to see how clever they’ve been but not in a smug know-it-all way.

Barry and Stuart don’t take themselves too seriously as evidenced by self-deprecatingly showing old television clips of themselves as geeky, awkward teenagers doing odd routines. They do however seem pleased with their show and proud of the work that has gone into it; some of the tricks took up to six years in the making so it’s a bold move to let the audience into their secrets. This approach does endear them to us, though, and this kind of honest magic has worked well in the past few years for Derren Brown (though his explanations are often just as much a misdirection as the illusions themselves). Let’s hope Barry and Stuart can keep coming up with enough new material to keep entertaining us. They have promised not to do the Koran’s best bits anytime soon!

Unlike Barry and Stuart, we won’t reveal too much more. The show is at once rude, gross, blasphemous and brilliant and bubbles along with impressive feats nicely broken up with confident back and forth comic timing which is good natured, if a little cheesy at times.

We spoke to Barry and Stuart last week about crucifixion, secret explosives and what the Magic Circle may do about their show. Read all about it.

Review: My Way/Your Way

Grab the lab coat and don those heavy-duty specs: the latest evolution of The Mostly Everything People’s My Way/Your Way brings together seemingly everything but the kitchen sink to explore a very urban issue.

The Mostly Everything People’s My Way/Your Way brings together seemingly everything but the kitchen sink .
The Mostly Everything People’s My Way/Your Way brings together seemingly everything but the kitchen sink.

If the question on your lips is “who or what are The Mostly Everything People?”, one answer would be that they are a troupe that incorporate elements of contemporary dance, acting, physical theatre, comedy, live music, multimedia music and percussion into a loose narrative of character exploration.Their latest show My Way/This Way is a surreal mixture of ideas deftly showing the difficulties in tolerating each other’s social and conversational habits and the physical manifestations of boundaries between people trying to live together in close proximity.

The piece starts with three housemates, played by Megan Armishaw, Virginia Scudeletti and Laura Williamson, sitting on stage with a lamp, an armchair and a stool. The fourth housemate (co-director and musician Christopher Preece) enters the stage playing the ukulele and singing My Way and together the quartet move the available objects to make percussive sounds. Eventually, in a finale familiar to anyone who has to share a home with strangers, the housemates begin to fight and compete for the spotlight.

The choreography cleverly establishes tension from the off and builds to a point of breaking before falling away in ebbs and flows like waves. The available space and props are used well to create setting and context and Preece’s comic timing has the whole audience laughing throughout, as narration is mixed with layers of vocals and snippets of conversation.

It’s rare to see something so experimental be so enjoyable. Although the narrative of My Way/This Way is fraught with awkwardness and miscommunication, the partnership of Preece and Jennifer Fletcher (co-director and choreographer) is clearly harmonious. The interplay of music all performed live onstage and then looped and sampled with the movement of the dancers is ambitious and successful in achieving its aims.

At twenty-two minutes, this is a short piece and while some of the audience will have been left wanting more, there are doubts that this degree of nervous energy would be sustainable if it was developed into something longer. Further, one of the characters seems less explored than the others and, as the focus of the piece is a lack of cohesion, it does mean the loss aesthetically of fluidity in dancers moving together.

Having said that, My Way/This Way is undoubtedly a success. The drive to blend all these different forms into one show and then balance them so that they are working together means that this piece is a confident display of skill. It manages to be instantly engaging, creating uncertainty and humanity in equal measure. This is now the fourth time it has been performed and I understand that with each showing there has been a significant evolution. No doubt the experimentation will continue with further shows.

There are tentative talks of a mixed bill production with physical performance from The Mostly Everything People, improvisation artist Seke Chimutengwende, contemporary clown Carlo Jacucci and a short film from award winning filmmaker Joseph Pierce. This will be taken to a variety of venues late in 2014.

My Way/This Way appeared at the annual Resolution festival at The Place. The festival runs until 15 February and features 81 new dance pieces over 27 days.

My Way/Your Way. Performed by The Mostly Everything People. The Place, London WC1H 9PY. www.themostlyeverythingpeople.com

Fans of Dalston’s Passing Cloud may be interested in the weird and wonderful Artful Badger on the 8th February with choreography from Zoë Cobb.

Photograph credit: The Mostly Everything People.

Review: Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza

Cirque du Soleil return to London with the follow-up to last year’s smash hit Totem. As the most expensive circus show in town, does it warrant your hard-earned? Ed Gosling investigates.

When one of the world’s most acclaimed circus companies rolls into town, its time to sit and take note – up to two hundred notes if you want the best seats. A year after Cirque du Soleil raised their Totem at the Royal Albert Hall, they’re back with new show Kooza. Did I say show? Event would be a better term, and well deserved.

Cirque du Soleil's Kooza will be at the Royal Albert Hall until February 10.
Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza will be at the Royal Albert Hall until February 10.

Like Totem, the production values here are, like Cirque’s space tourist CEO, sky high. Every part of the evening reeks of quality and attention to detail. Kooza promises to be “an adrenaline rush of acrobatics in a zany kingdom” and there’s no disappointment on that front.

A slow start leads to a phenomenal three person contortion act. The transitions are fast and effortless. The shapes and lines are perfection and the performers intertwine on a rotating plinth which superby highlights the different positions to best effect. Later, a high wire act leaves me with that first feeling I had when I was a child and I first saw Cirque du Soleil. We see four wirewalkers dressed in Arabian white outfits fencing high above the ground and leaping over each other. Suddenly, one of them falls and, at the last moment holds on leaving the audience gasping while I feel slightly breathless and intoxicated.

Compared to Totem, though, which relied on metaphor to tie it all together and convey ideas, Kooza is much more direct in its approach. As with any cabaret production, there is no fourth wall here. Clowning is very much at the centre of the show with audience members being brought on stage throughout the show for a variety of comic interactions. (For some reason, the “victims” tend towards older men in suits which made for some enjoyably awkward comedy.) Towards the end, a character called The Pickpocket chooses a volunteer for what at first appears to be a humdrum magic scenario which takes a wonderful sideways direction.

Tickets to show are available from around £20 to up to £199.
Tickets to show are available from around £20 to up to £199.

Its not just the human element of Kooza that deserves high praise. The venue itself is well-chosen as so much of Kooza is set above the audience: the high-wire; the Wheel of Death; the balancing on a tower of chairs; the trapeze; the teeterboard flips – all seemed designed for this kind of tall amphitheatre and when it all comes together Cirque du Soleil are the best in the world. The pacing is energetic and fluid with a tempo that deftly changes from one feat to another, while equally hiding more complex rigging changes such as for the Wheel of Death. It’s hard to imagine many other companies pulling this kind of transition off as the whole of the Albert Hall suddenly explodes in colour and movement complete with a giant confetti canon.

There is very little that lets this show down. The swinging trapeze act for example had a throwback costume apparently dug up from the 1980s, bad hair extensions and worse music and there’s a danger at one point of the whole show veering into cheesiness. High class cheese to be sure, but still definitely cheesy. The hoop manipulation acts are well-lit and the walkovers (a forward flip while spinning two hoops vertically at alternative timing) are spot on but it is at a lower quality than the other acts. The show itself lacks the rough and ready feel of many cabaret and circus shows. There is danger here, but no grit; spectacle, but no sex; and daring, but no controversy. Kooza is an excellent show that has been polished, carefully worked out and planned to the last detail in both a good and a bad way.

Kooza. By Cirque du Soleil. Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 2AP. Until 10 February, 19:30. £20.50-£199.00.http://www.cirquedusoleil.com

Review: Cabaret Roulette

A new show is always a calculated risk, but Vivacity Bliss’s Cabaret Roulette goes one step further by letting the audience choose the theme. She then commissions cabaret performers to create relevant routines and puts them on at Madame Jojo’s, one of the most popular cabaret venues in London. Its première kicked off the proceedings with the end of the world as a theme. Did the gamble pay off?

Mister Mistress's Cabaret Roulette routine was a strange spectacle of fake blood and zombie decay.
Mister Mistress’s Cabaret Roulette routine was a strange spectacle of fake blood and zombie decay

Compère Rubyyy Jones, gives the revue its few cohesive moments in a strong performance. This woman has enough enthusiasm, narcissism and sheer vocal volume for an audience much bigger than what Madame Jojo’s accommodates. A compelling force, she strolls the stage at ease while casually harassing patrons to buy her drinks. Ms. Jones also makes good use of her arse: displayed intermittently, it becomes the straight man in her comedy, and gets the largest round of applause of the evening.

The featured acts run the gamut of variety, including hula-hooping, fire dancing, accordion playing, belly-dancing and boylesque. Truly terrifying is Katie Jones, an anarchic one-woman army hellbent on destroying herself, the stage and the audience. Her manoeuvres look genuinely dangerous – it is amazing that the venue’s technical crew allows fire breathing in its small, low-ceilinged stage. This ballsy routine mixes fire eating, body burning, angle grinding and fire fans, along with three costume changes. A lot to cram into a single number, but this one is certainly cranked up to eleven.

Another excellent segment comes from cheesecake burlesque dancer Ginger Cupcake. While tap-dancing to Judy Garland’s Get Happy, she slowly reveals a body ravaged by some apocalyptic flesh-eating virus. The juxtaposition of the sugary sweet music and the scabs and bandages is an exquisite touch as she swings between hyperbolic smiles and the realisation of her own repugnance. The act is cheeky, disgusting, unexpected and full of chutzpah.

If the house always wins, the public for the first Cabaret Roulette was no exception. Madame Jojo’s was packed, something that attests to the general appeal of Bliss’ concept, even at its first outing.
Rounding off the evening, queerlesque artist Mister Mistress launches into a weird spectacle of fake blood and zombie decay. His confident moves are an entertaining treat.

Some of the sketches had little or no identifiable connection with the apocalyptic theme of the evening, which detracts greatly from a show with this premise. Nevertheless, fortune smiled on the affair, giving it plenty of fun acts. For the sophomore date of Cabaret Roulette on February 13th, the public has chosen the theme of fairy tales. If you survived the end of the world, that’s one spin of the wheel that’s certainly worth a gamble.

Cabaret Roulette. Produced by Vivacity Bliss. Madame Jojo’s, London W1F 0SE. 14 November, 20:30. £12 (£8 advance). http://www.vivacitybliss.com

 

Do variety artists enjoy creating acts under the constraints of a themed commission? Read Daisy Black’s account of the experiment, featuring the vaudevillian guinea pigs that braved the stage for the first Cabaret Roulette.

 

Photo credits: Louise Preedy

Review: Du Goudron Et Des Plumes

Mathurin Bolze's Du Goudron Des Plumes transcends circus and theatre.
Mathurin Bolze’s Du Goudron Des Plumes transcends circus and theatre.

Du Goudron Et Des Plumes (or tar and feathers for “les anglais”) is the latest project from circus visionary Mathurin Bolze shown at the Barbican as part of the ongoing International Mime festival. This is an immense show defiantly mixing physical theatre, acrobatics and aerial artistry involving a specially constructed piece of apparatus that loosely conveys the feeling of a ship floating through the sky. One thing is for sure: in a world of increasing repetition, reformatting and outright plagiarism, this is a show that sails off into the wind on it’s own trajectory.

The rocking and rolling of the ship, combined with the stark lighting and black background create a hypnotic, trance-like fusion of different ideas. At some points there are moments of calm that drift through ambience, only to fall apart catastrophically into violent choreography. Literal and physical destruction leaves the stage covered in debris and the theatre hangs heavy with uncertainty and expectation.

Are these ship-wrecked survivors floating on the sea of life? Or the last remaining corner of humanity stranded together after some great catastrophe? Are they the ghosts of past lives or a vision of the future? Without dialogue, all these possibilities seam to reveal themselves and be equally valid. With grace and music the world is deconstructed and rebuilt anew. Disconnected performers mirror each other in a world that lacks time or space.

At some points I’m reminded of Fuerzabruta (coming back to the Roundhouse in December), both through the physical staging, lack of obvious linear narrative and the unrestrained energy the five performers exhibit here. But there is far more desolation and violence. It is far bleaker. Yet there is also redemption: though the “crew” face obstacles and a world that continually threatens to destroy them, they also survive it through the spirit of collectivism.

The show works by a series of individual pieces that are brought together often at breakneck speed through clever choreography. The circus is bold and fearless, at one point as the pandemonium builds to a crisis a girl grabs a rope and flings herself into the air. A lone trumpet holds a sustained battle call and though I have no idea how or why these figures have been brought together, I am utterly captivated by this image.

This is a 75-minute show, and the athleticism of the performers is impressive; at the final moments they appear drained and exhilarated. I too feel like I have done a work out of equal proportion, the back of my seat untouched. I was asked recently what relevance does mime have in the 21st century. With Du Goudron Et Des Plumes, Bolze has given his answer; this is a show packed with more fear, savagery and beauty than most conventional theatre could dream of. In the deafening thunder of post-modernism, without fixed reference points and lacking coherence this chaotic, discordant expression seems to make mime more relevant than ever.

Du Goudron Et Des Plumes. Directed by  by Mathurin Bolze. The Barbican Arts Centre, London EC2Y 8DS. www.barbican.org.uk

Review: Paul L. Martin’s Fifty Shades Of Gay

You can take the performer out of cabaret but, going by Paul L. Martin’s comeback show, you can never take cabaret out of the performer.

Martin originally made his name on the stage where he entertained audiences for over twenty years before setting up his agency Excess All Areas and producing the first London Cabaret Awards. His return to the limelight with Fifty Shades of Gay is a welcome one, showing many younger pretenders exactly how to hit a home run.

Paul L Martin's Fifty Shades Of Gay continues until August 25.
Paul L. Martin’s cabaret comeback Fifty Shades Of Gay continues until August 25th

From the title of this production, one could be forgiven for expecting something apparently raunchy and X-rated, yet ultimately disappointing. Thankfully, the comparison is only superficial as Martin is keen to clarify: “this show won’t give any women an orgasm, unless you’re very easy to please, and the writing is terrible.” With that last comment, the maestro does himself a disservice. In fact, the material is strong and complemented well by his excellent comic timing and a voice both powerful and expressive. Sexual references and double entendres are scattered throughout: fisting, masturbating for cash and rimshots (in this case the musical sound) are mentioned in a light-hearted rather than coarse manner. The whole show feels quite refined.

This may also have something to do with the venue. Opened less than two months ago, Crazy Coqs Cabaret is something special. A listed art-deco room, fitted out with small black tables and dimly lit, it features an atmosphere that is perfect for cabaret – almost too perfect, like a pastiche of an old cabaret bar. Classic cocktails are available. If only the smoking ban hadn’t come into effect, you could really imagine yourself back in the 1920s.

Fifty Shades of Gay is good old fashioned cabaret by a master of the art. It’s clear from the opening song that Martin knows how to work a room, and he takes charge of the evening right from the start. The man has a hell of a range, running the gamut from punchy emotional numbers to plain silliness– such as his song about a girlfriend called Alberta from Vancouver, whom his straight gym mates are unlikely to meet any time soon. A later song about those nights as a performer when you don’t feel you have anything to give has real depth and is a definite highlight.

Martin has a broad repertoire, something evidenced by the different styles and topics: a quick rant about Tracey Emin and modern British art in general, a snipe at the Daily Mail and a childish homage to a babysitter. His ability to switch from one mode to another is impressive and shows his ease in front of a microphone.

Apparently the alternative title for Martin’s comeback was going to be Halal – Is It Meat You’re Looking for? Perhaps that will be saved for something down the line. For now, Fifty Shades Of Gay has two engagements every night for the next two weeks, which I thoroughly recommend.

Paul L. Martin’s Fifty Shades Of Gay. Crazy Coqs Cabaret, London W1F 7ED. 15-18, 22-25 August, 19:45 and 21:30. £10. http://www.paullmartin.com

 

Photos courtesy of the artist