A small crowd of protesters were painting the street red outside the Peacock Theatre yesterday evening. Colourful in fancy dress, these students at the London School of Economics (which owns the building) were drawing attention to the plight of the LSE’s cleaners, but such was the riot of colour and bravado that the protest could have been mistaken for part of the show which was about to commence inside.
The exterior of the building may be drab and boring. A wonderful Edwardian theatre was erected on the site by Oscar Hammerstein (the first, not the third), but that was bulldozed in a typical act of 1950s vandalism, and replaced by something “modern”. Inside, however, the current production is the very opposite of drab and boring, and the auditorium was packed last night. The show is not for the prudish or for those with hypersensitive aural acuity. It is loud, brash, sexy and … very hard to classify!
The concept is a celebration of the varied facets of life in Soho, depicted in a succession of scenes with vistas of Soho projected onto a backdrop. Twelve world-class artistes perform stupendous displays of acrobatics, dance and mime that should have left them exhausted by the mid-point of the show, but the whole thing fizzes with energy from start to finish, powered along by a loud soundtrack of rock, pop, and – well – Mozart’s Requiem.
Each scene is a self-contained nugget of Soho life, into which a bewildered fall-guy wanders. One such depicts Chinatown. Cleverly positioned props make room for the frenetic activity of a market and kitchen, and indeed martial artistry with knives and meat cleavers. Another scene depicts a bathroom, in which a bathtub, sink and loo are used for their ordinary functions as well as for extraordinary balancing acts. Practitioners of an ancient profession go about their “business”, and two particularly louche landmarks of Soho life, now sadly defunct – Madame Jojo’s and The Colony Rooms – are recreated with drag act and all. My favourite, as a gym addict, is the gymnasium scene, where hunky males clad only in shorts preen and posture, but also do eye-watering stuff that I will never attempt. And I must mention the mannequin in a shop window, that turns out to be real.
The audience were at first uncertain how to react. There are different things going on simultaneously in most of the scenes, some of them being feats on the trapeze or with aerial straps and the like which, in a regular circus – well, this show is a kind of circus – would be individual acts and the focus of everyone’s attention. Eventually we twigged that it was okay to clap and cheer particularly astounding acrobatic performances while other stuff was going on around them. Indeed, the show is an embarras de richesses, stuffed with goodies. Go along and enjoy!