The audience files into the space, a circus tent, sipping drinks and chatting distractedly. Slinking in the shadows, women with bobbed hair and coquettish smiles survey the space. We are invited to stay at the Hotel Black Cat – a haven for the artistes who struggle in today’s unforgiving world of conventions and propriety. A cabaret of truly breath-taking imagination and heavenly execution, it is packed full of sparkling moments that have the audience rising from their seats in gleeful admiration. Corralled by the hotel’s manager, the residents of the hotel tumble, swoop and spin about the stage and the audience is sucked into the ensuing tornado of music, dance, comedy and downright sauciness whirling before us.
The Hotel Black Cat is struggling. Its once elegant and impressive décor is now faded and frayed. Boasting a history of opulence, ribaldry and bonhomie it needs help in order to stay afloat in an era that is slowly turning away from the traditions of hospitality. The hotel’s manager tells us that they are soon to be expecting a visit from a wealthy couple who are interested in making a fairly sizeable investment in the hotel. However, it quickly becomes clear that the couple have a history with one particular member of the hotel’s staff which complicates the commitment and throws the hotel’s future into doubt.
The variety of gifts and disciplines displayed by the cast of Hotel Black Cat is quite simply astounding. Our host, Dusty Limits, spurs the acts forward with feline grace and ferocity. His sultry glances and inclusive gestures provide the perfect accompaniment to his rich baritone and his appreciation for throwaway humour has the audience giggling throughout. Florian Brooks and Dimitri Hatton complement one another wonderfully as the Porter and Caretaker respectively. Brooks’ juggling finesse is truly magical while Hatton’s clumsy, and strangely suggestive, clowning is an effective conduit for some light audience participation. The evening is thrust into overdrive by Vicky Butterfly who gyrates like a goddess aflame in a winged costume of neon lights, transforming herself into a veritable vortex of rainbows as the audience’s collective jaw hits the floor. The resident orchestra Bowjangles infuses their string quartet with an impressive medley of well-known love songs as they divulge their incestuous dilemma and their voices soar as they leap about the stage with comical expression.
Laura ‘Frisky’ Corcoran’s direction is wonderfully suited to the show and her trademark sexy and imaginative performance style is evident in each of the pieces, ensuring that there is no lull in the audience’s enjoyment. Katharine Arnold is transfigured into a human glitterball as she slinks like a serpent through an elevated hoop while a selection of ballerinas from Cabaret Rouge pivot onstage with fantastic agility – though with an amusingly nefarious twist. The shining performance is delivered by Nathan and Isis whose hand to hand acrobatics are quite simply sensational. Nathan launches Isis into the air time after time with incredible strength and support while she is the very epitome of elegance, seeming to freeze in flight in various tableaux of grace.
Hotel Black Cat harkens back to a time of grandeur and indulgence and as the audience leaves the big top to confront reality once more, there are more than a few wistful backward glances. An extravaganza of glamour and flirtation, this show provides the perfect springboard from which to leap into a weekend of decadence.
Reviewed by Alex Foott
Photo: Jason Moon
Black Cat Cabaret plays every Friday until the end of August 2016