Created by: The cast
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Nothing is guaranteed to delight a Press Night audience more than standing in an exceptionally long queue for 30 minutes with zero information on why the doors aren’t open or why the show is starting later than billed – it’s pretty poor customer management from the venue. A line of angry journalists and critics is exactly what you want when the show eventually starts almost 25 minutes late and it’s going to take something quite special to recover the mood. Unfortunately the Black Cat Cabaret: Nocturne is a car crash of a production that never quite decides what it’s trying to be.
It describes itself as ‘operatic bravura meets circus high skills’, a ‘cabaret noir’ but the idea of the circus being a sinister place is not new; Stephen King essentially made a generation terrified of clowns, while wife-stealing Papa Lazarou’s alarming freak show in the League of Gentleman became a cult figure and even Roger Moore had to fend off some murderous knife throwers in Octopussy. Nocturne however takes a more trancelike approach and the story begins with a man day-dreaming on the tube, when he conjures up Lili la Scala a sort of High Priestess / Mistress of Ceremonies who takes the unnamed non-speaking man on a journey through his subconscious.
Here he encounters gymnasts, dancing girls, singers, seductresses and his own mother in a hodge podge of acts that have no obvious theme or link other than being in the man’s imagination. The quality of these distinct sections various considerably from highly skilled acrobatics to cringe-worthy dance routines that are just a variety of poses set to music. The changes of tone are so rapid and bizarre it’s difficult for an audience to understand what is going on; one performance is slick, the next is brash comedy, followed by a sultry song. By the time “The Man” is given some kind of fire-eating-based lap-dance it’s just become a mess of random ideas.
la Scala’s operatic voice is good but the choice of songs, ending with Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball, adds very little while her main rôle is to snipe at “The Man” and the audience. Much of the gymnastics is impressive including a duo that perform handstands and throws, while the final section of hoop work is excellent and brilliantly choreographed, although the chain sequence while daring needed a little more polish. There is a lot of this kind of stuff around at the moment but more of the show could have been devoted to this rather than old-fashioned roller skates gags.
The Black Cat Cabaret: Nocturne focus on the surreal makes it rather uneven and it never quite lives up to its dreamlike promise. And while this is meant to be “The Man’s” dream it does result in yet another crop of poor young actresses having to get semi-naked in order to appear on a London stage. There’s very little magic here and, after overshooting its 75 minute run time, when “The Man” declares he wants to go home, he’s not the only one. There are clearly some skilled people in the cast but two hours on the tube might have been the better option.
Runs until: 11 September