This Is Cabaret Rating: ★★★★★

Cabaret is theatre without walls and performance without rules – a place where anything can, and frequently does, happen.  And in a scene filled with a show for every palate, few do it better than Brett Haylock’s La Soirée, playing now until 17 January at their South Bank Spiegeltent.

What started out in London as a variety show in 2010 has become an iconic mainstay of the cabaret circuit, touring its rotating cast of artists around the world.

Simply put, La Soirée is fun.  There’s sex for the sexy, comedy for the laughers, acrobatics for the wonderers, and some gut-churning joint dislocation for those of you who like that kind of thing. From the moment the doors close on the packed and gilded Spiegeltent, it is a dizzying conveyor belt of the weird and the wonderful that barely pauses for breath.  With the expected swell of the great, the not-as-great and the utterly sublime acts, once again La Soiree fails to disappoint.

“How about a round of applause for my left leg?” entreats Norwegian contortionist Captain Frodo, forcing his limber frame through a couple of tennis rackets and scattering confetti in lieu of rimshots. “I call this one ‘Floss the Derriere’” drawls the self-styled “sensual  gentleman” Asher Treleaven, spinning his “baby-making diablo” between his legs. Later, a pint-sized Melanie Chy drives a full-size, fully-rigged Harley Davidson onto the tiny central stage upon which she casually does a one-handed handstand.

With a line-up featuring some the very best cabaret and circus performers in the world, there are many, many highlights. Perennial favourites The English Gents once again combine superhuman feats of acrobatics with the restrained giddiness one would expect of such finely-suited chaps, and Brett Pfister’s note-perfect contemporary dance via aerial hoop is deeply beautiful and emotive.

The evening, though, belongs to Denis Lock and his bubbles – an act made all the more powerful by its exquisite simplicity. Standing ovations are rare in cabaret; an entire audience spontaneously rising in stupefied wonder before the act has even finished, as it did on press night, must be as scarce as a unicorn indeed. Lock’s is a work of true innocent wonder which in its unique brilliance epitomises the La Soirée experience.

La Soirée continues until 17 January.