On the banks of the Thames, in the unchartered realm of the spiegel tent, lurk a troupe of performance aficionados, ready to send shudders through the Udderbelly. Led by cabaret mogul, Miss Frisky (Laura Corcoran) the company blends circus acts with live music, dance and lashings of drama. In the mirrored world of Black Cat: Bohemia, the natural laws no longer apply. Aerialists defy gravity, fire eaters test thermodynamics and the laws of common decency are utterly abandoned. And all in the space of 70 minutes.
The circus genre has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last few decades. Since renowned Canadian company Cirque du Soleil upped the stakes in the mid-80s, new troupes such as London’s La Soiree and US group Wanderlust have brought their own contemporary flavour to the traditional form. Under the energetic direction of Sean Kempton, Black Cat: Bohemia evokes the sideshow sleaze of yesteryear. This is embodied by acts such as ‘Icarus.’ Shot quaffing Danger K (Katharine Arnold) doffs her angelic wings to oscillate through the heavens on her aerial ring, while Frisky croons Nirvana’s Smells like teen spirit. The enhanced role play of the players and the addition of modern rock and tongue in cheek narration add to the mix. The result is a carnivalesque cabaret aimed squarely at 21st century grown-ups.
This show is very much a team effort, there are no black-clad stage hands scampering furtively between sets. Instead the performers help set stage, clean up and are ever ready to have their bottoms played as bongos by a musical Frisky. A particularly cheeky set is that of the hip swivelling ‘Knaves’ L J Marles and Nicolas Jelmoni. This duo fill the clown quota of the circus production, with appropriate pratfalls and mock embarrassment. Both garbed in braces and neo-gypsy patchwork, the scampish pair leap through precariously placed hula hoops to an upbeat disco soundtrack.
Jelmoni also flexes his dancing muscles during a pas de deux with gymnast performer, Charlotte O’Sullivan. With phenomenal poise, the pair move as one, charlotte rolling her body over Jelmoni’s with fluid, balletic movements.
Somewhat immersive, the production comes at the audience from multiple angles, thanks in part to being set in the round. The players wander through the aisles between sets and show off their backstage antics in silhouette form. Slippin’ Jo (Joe Moss) has a particularly raunchy offstage moment, after his ‘Vitruvian Man’ piece which sees him slide, vault, somersaults and spin seamlessly inside a giant wheel. When it comes to audience participation, Ringleader, Frisky takes things to the next level by chatting away with camp verbosity; her bon mots and direct addresses punctuated with a porcine snort. Truly the mistress of improv, Frisky builds an incredible rapport with the audience, culminating in a group promenade through the aisles with patrons being fed grapes.
Whilst the show’s tone is that of spontaneous chaos, the sets are of course, meticulously choreographed. Missy Fatale (Hayley Harvey-Gomez)’s hypnotic fire-dance performance is a paragon of circus skill. Dressed like a mystical Eastern goddess, Fatale manipulates the fire with majestic ease; sensuously winding her body amidst the scarlet flames. In a city that has so much to offer, the truly unique occasionally proves hard to come by. Black Cat: Bohemia fits the bill for a one-off night of hedonistic, no holds barred entertainment.
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