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Culture in France

La Clique's kinky cabaret packs 'em in Europe-wide

Audio 06:27
La Clique
By: Daniel Brown
10 min

Six years after making its debut on the Edinburgh Festival fringe, La Clique continues to bring in audiences and hit exotic venues. The provocative burlesque show has gone round the world, including a prolonged stop in Paris’s prestigious Théatre Bobino.

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For the next month, La Clique’s cosmopolitan cast is hoping to attract the crowds in Scandinavia. La Clique’s artistic director and co-creator Brett Haylock talked to RFI when the troupe was performing in Paris .

“This is an incredible rollercoaster we’re on,” Haylock says. He admits he is still pinching himself when looking back at the success achieved since 2004.

Over 100,000 people have flocked to watch the 90-minute show in London’s Hippodrome alone. Last year, it was even awarded Britain’s prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment.

Yet this bunch of talented burlesquers achieved success with no marketing machine or recognisable star in its line-up. They just used old-fashioned word-of-mouth tactics. As a result, audiences of all social backgrounds are enjoying rubber women, strong men, kinky artistes and naughty comedians who have learnt their trade far from the limelight.

“A lot of these performers came from the fringes of the performing arts world,” says Haylock, who hails from Melbourne, Australia. “Many of them honed their craft in the street. Take, for example, Mario Queen of the Circus. He spent ten years working the European street circuit. What an incredible grounding that gave him!”

On stage, Mario transforms himself into a Freddy Mercury look-alike who indulges in monocycling and Eurotrash juggling.

“If you don’t capture your audience in the street then they walk away,” continues Haylock, in his typically intense Antipodean style. “But it’s in the streets or the queer clubs of London , or those dark dirty corners, that you create the most incredible characters.”

People at Paris’s mythical Bobino Theatre were not just crying with laughter at Mario’s antics. They were also enjoying Captain Frodo, who twisted his lithe body through a tennis racket – without the strings -; David O’Mer, who used a bathtub for his breathtaking acrobatics; and Yulia Pikhtina, whose erotic timing transformed Hula Hoops into titillating props.

But the double-jointed excesses are not to everyone’s taste. At times, this brazen freak show turned the stomach, giving way to an unhealthy brand of voyeurism. At others, it was simply a far-off imitation of what Monty Python did best in decades past.

No one can deny the Clique’s success in France, however. Audiences packed the Bobino for seven solid months, although little had been done to adapt the original to French tastes.

“Well, La Clique is an extended family and we draw on that family to craft a show,” Haylock insists. “What we do is slightly twist, massage, and adapt these acts [to suit] French sensibility… and it works!”

It is hard to fathom the troupe’s phenomenal global success. London ’s Time Out magazine attributes it to an ability to “bring different classes of entertainment seekers together”.

Barriers are intentionally broken between the artistes and the audience as usherettes shimmy through the tables with pints and pies, or bowler-hatted ushers start up prying exchanges with teary-eyed fans.

Haylock remains self-deprecating and modest when assessing La Clique’s success. He believes a subtle pinch of Antipodean culture just might have done the trick in building these burlesque bridges.

“I have no idea how we ended up here,” he says. “No one would ever know this show is Australian. But, at its core there is this Australian irreverence and kind of humour. We call it ‘larrikinism’, or ‘Aussie battler’. There are tinges of that.

 “But here we are in Paris doing cabaret. That was unimaginable just a few years ago.”

 

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