David Bowie said “We can all be heroes” but as the latest Cabaret Roulette amply demonstrated, being a kick-ass villain can be just as fun. Tom and Adela investigate.

Mentalist Alex McAleer with "Crack of Dawn"

Mentalist Alex McAleer with “Crack of Dawn”

“You might have to push past a few people on the way through!” The Joker (aka usher and performer Ruth Young sporting green pigtails and purple stockings) growls at the door. A manic energy permeates Madame Jojo’s as we hurtle headlong into a superhero themed pinball machine.

Cabaret Roulette is an event with a clear sense of identity. The concept is ambitious, but it is one that has delivered thus far: the audience votes for the theme of the next show, giving artists two months to pitch and then prepare original acts. These constraints have the potential to act as catalysts for greatness, pushing performers out of their comfort zones, and ensuring the audience sees something fresh each time.

Compere Dolores Delight, in touch with her nerdy-chic side, reciprocates the audience’s warmth in brash, sassy style and stays true to the theme, performing an heroic backflip without even breaking a nail. Or did she?

Christian Petitto is a Superman has let himself go and is hitting the bottle night after night. His onstage partner is Nayla Vacca who, as Lois Lane, has developed a soft spot for Batman. She dolls herself up and elopes for a secret, rooftop rendezvous. In the meantime, Superman pulls himself together, hits the gym, and turns up instead. They reconnect through Argentine tango. Happy ending!

Sharp mentalist Alex McAleer introduces an audience member to her secret superpowers. The audience dubs her “Crack of Dawn” (to Dolores’s delight!). Dawn dons the traditional external underpants (on her head, where else?) and mask. Alex helps Dawn to explore her telekinetic abilities and demonstrates his own uncanny powers of prediction.

Moorita Encantada, in a song-and-dance off with her virtual alter-ego, answers the eternal question of who makes the greatest superheroes: women or men? The conclusion is perhaps one you’d expect from this feisty performer.

Batman foe Poison Ivy is enthusiastically channelled by Jeanie Wishes who recreates the botanical villain with glued leaves on her eyebrows and vines drawn on her legs. After happily tending her English garden, she is overcome by a spell of itchiness. A sexy, scratchy dance ensues, climaxing with a Calamine shower. Her joy is infectious; she’s a pleasure to behold.

Anna Lou Larkin takes the stage to immediate and comic effect. She sings a sad song as the Madonna (the one from the Bible), lamenting her tragic superpower of “’aving ze fucking babies wizout ‘aving ze fucking sex”. Charmingly clever and deceptively innocent, “holy as fuck”, Larkin is a treat.

Elsewhere, gothic burlesque performer Raven Noir brandishes knives in an awkward ritual and Doc Leroc gives us the world premiere of “Wolverine: The Musical”. Enough said.

The show ends with pain artist Snake Fervor, whose incredible feats  are regular highlights of The Double R Club. During her act, it strikes me that Snake Fervor isn’t just pretending to be a superhero, she is a superhero. Her indestructible girl routine includes jumping on glass shards, suspending weights from her piercings, putting out a cigarette with her tongue and using a stapler to affix pieces of paper to her body. As amazing as all that is the look of errie serenity on her face throughout the proceedings.

This may be superhero night but this doesn’t have the polish of a multi-million pound Hollywood production. Though no-one actually hits the deck on stage, this seems to be an almost constant threat. Perhaps this is the price you pay for maintaining such high-paced energy with such limited preparation time but the not-unexpected roughness of some of the acts is more than made up for by the atmosphere.

Cabaret Roulette returns on 11 September with the theme of “Myths and Legends”. Crimson Skye will oversee a pantheon of performers including Kiki Lovechild (puppeteer), Anna Lou Larkin (chanteuse), Elsie Diamond (film), Laurence Owen (singer-songwriter), The Dandy Inferno (fire boylesque), Missy Maybe (burlesque monologue) and Paul Savage (standup).

And that’s not all. Preparations are underway for Cabaret Roulette’s first birthday blowout on 13 November featuring one act from each of the previous shows, balloons, cake and games.

Photo credit: Katie Gwilt-Cox