At last London cabaret gains a chorus line. In a box stage. With curtains. But more importantly, an eclectic programme of bawdy song, dance and comedy in true music hall style to make the most of all those bells and whistles. Inaugurating a new performance space atop the Vibe Bar on Brick Lane, When Worlds Collide introduces an ambitious format ripe with fresh kicks and surprising twists.
The premise is a “cultural fight night” between conflicting topics, debuting with “highbrow versus lowbrow”. Rather than an overarching frame, though, the conflict is a mere starting point for compères Norman Gosney and Benjamin Louche (of co-producers The Double R Club) to spin a web of lunacy between the acts, taunting the crowd and themselves mutually with boisterous energy and comically crass innuendo. The two entertainers demonstrate thorough chemistry: one’s a smooth-talking circus ringleader, the other a lecherous curmudgeon. Those two worlds do not collide as much as bounce off each other.
Each half of the show begins with a musical number where one of the hosts sings a lewd song backed by a line of showgirls called The London Chinatown Dolls. The resident chorus line consists of burlesquers Miss Miranda, Kitten von Strumpet, Emerald Fontaine, Mademoiselle Jolie, drag queen Miss Brandy Butters and co-producer Miss Amelia, who also answers for the quintet’s choreographies. In a circuit characterised by rotating bills of individual acts, it’s an exquisite pleasure to see an ensemble come together for vivid routines both sexy and humorous. The Dolls double up as the supporting cast of other skits as well, but seeing them break a sweat in flirtatious dances is a definite highlight of the evening (hopefully still there after the venue’s upcoming air conditioning kicks in next month).
When Worlds Collide makes good on its promise to deliver a cast “carefully culled from the cream of international cabaret.” Its debut bill drafted two variety powerhouses: Le Gateau Chocolat (absent due to a missed flight, but guaranteed to feature at a later date) and exotic bombshell Luna Rosa. Other performers at the premiere included Johnny Electrolux as his sleazy magician character Tony Garulo and musical storytellers Ginger and Black, whose deadpan comedy, though full of subtle irony, proved slow for such a dynamic revue.
In addition to filling in on the chorus line for an ailing Emerald Fontaine, dancer Hotcake Kitty (An Evening of Burlesque) drew cheers with her hen party number. Stumbling drunkenly around the stage and harassing spectators from table to table, she makes a convincing inebriated blunder out of every article removed. More than a satirical look at young ladies who party too hard, the expertly acted sketch is a parody of burlesque itself.
Halfway between sleazy and decadent, the show maintains a consistent anything-goes atmosphere. One lucky patron, for instance, got a birthday chocolate smear straight from Miss Amelia’s cleavage (I might make a group booking come next March). Its resident cast of seven means there’s plenty of manpower for elaborate theatrical stunts you won’t find anywhere else in cabaret. In one such moment, Gosney leads audience members through a magic number that brings their personified sexual fantasies out of a man-sized wooden crate. Another, using the venue’s box stage to full advantage, enacts a ludicrous dumbshow where a couple’s intimacies in a movie theatre (complete with screen flicker) escalate to fatal consequences during a screening of Hitchcock’s Psycho.
When Worlds Collide is a live nickelodeon of lurid vaudevillian amusements. Masterminded by a dream team of variety producers, it breaks new ground in London cabaret, and for that alone is a must-see show. The only disappointment is Gosney and Kallman’s guarantee that every patron that watches the show will have sex on that night: I didn’t get mine until the following afternoon. Teething problems, I’m sure.
When Worlds Collide. Hosted by Norman Gosney and Benjamin Louche. Vibe Bar, London E1 6QL. First Thursday of the month, 21:00. £10. www.whenworldscollidecabaret.com.