House of Jojo


Johannes Radebe is well known to us all as a beloved star of ‘Strictly’, where his scintillating choreography, engaging warmth of personality, and lavish love of exotic costume never fail to impress. His back story, from hard-scrabble origins in South Africa, is as remarkable, revealing a resilience and toughness to go with the talent. This is the third of his own touring shows, where he teams up with a company of top-notch dancers, two singers, and a creative team best placed to deliver a sequence of spectacularly framed numbers.

There are some wonderful things here which display all the familiar qualities of technical invention, bravura and panache. The opening numbers in each half of the evening are exquisitely done – the first a black-and-white sequence, all rubber, leather, fans and hints of kink; and the second a louche, deep-dive into a ‘Speakeasy’ world of lowered homburgs and jazz syncopation. There is a fine balance struck here between Radebe strutting his stuff and ensemble show-casing. But unfortunately this is not true of the evening as a whole, which comes over as too fragmented, with developed choreography sacrificed to meretricious, crowd-pleasing special effects.

The costumes and lighting designs are superbly inventive, the work of Andrew Exeter and Tom Rogers. The simple strip-lighting of the ‘house’ set becomes a synaesthetic feast, and the costumes go from tribal minimalism to Bridgerton bombast in a way that makes Elton look tame. But this is meant to be a dance spectacular, not a catwalk, and the net result is that there is not enough dancing, and too much extraneous material needed to cover costume changes. There is too much of Johannes talking unscripted to the audience and too many filler songs of a fairly sentimental kind which do not fuse with or relate to the dance numbers either side of them. Given how Radebe is loved by his devoted audiences this does not matter on the night, but from a critical perspective you have to feel somewhat short-changed when the Radebe’s contributions to the dance numbers are sometimes curtailed to a minute or so, simply because he has to change into a new outfit for the next; and sometimes the elaborate nature of the costumes simply gets in the way of the dance moves.

Another issue is that the governing concept of the show is less coherent than its predecessors which focused on the star’s African roots and heritage. The ‘House of Jojo’ tries to unify his many interests and enthusiasms under one roof, but the sections seem very loosely connected. In particular the themes of ‘Heal the World’ and ‘Movies’ offered short numbers that ended soon after they began and therefore left little overall impression beyond immediate visual thrills as the star made his entrance. Even a brief reunion with Annabel Croft seemed perfunctory. With all this creative talent on stage this dissipation of energies seemed a missed opportunity.  Immediate thrills are in the end no substitute for a more complex, focused and nuanced story-telling line, though it has to be said the audience at the Palladium loved every minute of it.

This is heart-warming evening full of glitz and glamour, and in these grim times it would be churlish to complain. One of the essential functions of theatre is always to entertain and divert. But it is hardly a fair representation of the range and depth of all the artists involved. The last page of the programme reveals that Radebe is to take the lead in a 2025 production of ‘Kinky Boots’, and this show will hopefully provide a structured framework for and more representative account of the talents of this consummate performer.


London Palladium

Cast: Johannes Radebe, Anthonia Edwards, Paige Peddie and Company

4 May 2024 and touring

2 hrs 20 minutes with interval