The beast has been dormant long enough. After a nine-month season at London’s legendary Hippodrome Casino in 2009, the Olivier-award-winning revue that ushered in the current cabaret revival returns to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, its august birthplace. La Clique Royale, the newest incarnation of the international vaudeville phenomenon, is a mesmerising concoction of breathtaking circus stunts and sly comedy.
Australian impressionist Gerry Connolly revives his role from previous La Clique engagements as Queen Elizabeth II, bookending the proceedings with speeches of biting mockery that dish out indiscreet glimpses into the monarch’s private and political life. The thread that keeps it all together, though, is host Paul Zenon. The magician and (allegedly) former street con man displays the sort of stage charm that makes every spectator feel directly addressed. Part wisecracking pub chatter, part cowboy swagger, the masterly entertainer stirs the public with understated lightness of touch.
Thoroughly immersive in the round space of the Famous Spiegeltent, La Clique Royale doesn’t take the C-word lightly. Committing improprieties with anyone within his reach, lascivious cabaret crooner Mikelangelo commands silent awe with his oily voice in suggestive originals like A Formidable Marinade, as well as a smooth rendition of I’ll Shoot the Moon by Tom Waits. More musical merriment follows with a Bavarian-themed bell-ringing routine by resourceful burlesque belle Agent Lynch. Select dates of the show’s 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe run also include appearances by acclaimed chanteuse Virginia Gay, known for unusual arrangements of modern hits by the likes of Radiohead and Nirvana.
In true La Clique fashion, the bulk of the bill is made of dashing circus numbers. What starts as a peacock boylesque fan dance by Mark Winmill (of hit show Briefs) soon evolves into a stupefying string of acrobatic moves on the corde lisse. Sideshow star Lilikoi Kaos contributes stunning hula hoop choreographies interspersed with farcical visual gags. Suspended by straps fastened around his wrists, Didj Wentworth executes athletic aerial turns of hypnotic beauty.
The trapeze becomes the setting for a euphoric pageant of verve and showmanship when The Wau Wau Sisters spring into action. Clad in puffy blond wigs straight out of a Mötley Crüe video and the finest biker slut attire, the New York duo wrings loud cheers with dazzling exploits and over-the-top characterisation: they spin as one around the hanging bar, dangle from each other’s crotches and cop feels between them, indulging in graphic substance abuse antics all the while – to the tune of Guns N’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle, appropriately. You could find more certain ways than a Wau Wau Sisters act to get an adrenaline rush, but those would endanger your criminal record.
Expectations could hardly be higher for such a comeback, and still the show does not disappoint in the least. Gathered around the circular stage, the crowd luxuriates in a spectacular programme of performing wonders that spills over and around them, enveloping the entire space of the intimate venue. More than a watershed in variety history, La Clique is a truckload of fun.
La Clique Royale. Hosted by Paul Zenon. The Famous Spiegeltent, Edinburgh EH2 2LR (Venue 87). 3-5, 7-12, 14-19, 21-26 August, 21:30. £20 (£17 concessions). www.arfringe.com