What Hongkongers can expect from La Soirée, known for sexy acrobatics
Show that evolved from alternative cabaret act at Edinburgh Festival has gone back to its roots for first Asian tour
Brett Haylock describes himself as a man with a short attention span - a trait he puts to good use in creating the multiple genre format of short performances for the stage show La Soirée, now in its 12th year of international touring, but making its Asian debut in September at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.
La Soirée's last London run won the 2015 Laurence Olivier Award for best entertainment - the show's second Olivier - for its fast-paced presentation of acts drawing on the traditions of cabaret, vaudeville, burlesque and circus entertainment, each given an unexpected spin.
"We've taken the age old variety format, sexed it up a little, sped up the timing and made it entirely relevant to a new generation," says Haylock, the show's founder and creative producer.
"It borrows heavily from the variety world, but it's not a museum piece. There's cutting-edge social commentary built in. We don't bash an audience around the head with a narrative. It's pure escapism. But there are a few moments in the show that I think will make people wake up the following morning and think 'I'll give that some thought.'"
Haylock was passing through Hong Kong on his way to check out new talent at the Edinburgh Festival, on the fringe of which the show was born in 2004.
"This show's first incarnation, as La Clique, before rebranded as La Soirée, was as a midnight alternative cabaret in Edinburgh, which is, of course, the most dynamic and crowded arts marketplace in the world," he says.
"I'd seen a number of acts which had a breathtaking seven minutes or so, but didn't really have a home. It has been an incredible roller coaster since then. We have become almost a poster child of the Edinburgh fringe. All the stars aligned. We had five-star reviews within the first week, and we were turning away hundreds of people every night," he says.
Since then La Soirée has played successfully in London, Paris, New York, Montreal and several cities in Sweden and Australia. Given the show is almost always on the road, there is constant pressure on Haylock to find new acts to keep it fresh.
Its Asian debut in Hong Kong (presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions), followed by a short run in Manila, however, have provided an opportunity to revisit some past glories.
"We have a reputation [in the West]. People trust the brand and know what they're going to get, but here no one has any idea what we are, and that's exciting for us - to go back to the very beginning almost. Because it's the first time here, there's a great opportunity to bring out all our big guns. We're getting the band back together, and there's a lot of history between us. The opportunity to bring it to Asia and Hong Kong is a great adventure."
La Soirée stars coming to Hong Kong include contortionist Captain Frodo, acrobats The English Gents, physical comedienne Jess Love, gymnast David O'Mer, and diva Le Gateau Chocolat.
"The show celebrates difference," say Haylock. "Take Captain Frodo, the Norwegian rubber man who can put his body through two tennis racquets. If you change the context of that, it could belong in a freak show world, which large sections of the public would find quite off-putting. But it's so heart warming in this context. Le Gateau Chocolat is a big oversized drag queen with a beard and this angelic voice. All these performers come from the fringes, and people fall in love with them."
The perceived conservatism of Hong Kong audiences has led Haylock to pull one or two punches. One of the show's most celebrated acts - illusionist Ursula Martinez, who performs a striptease act involving doing provocative things with a handkerchief - is not among those on this bill.
"We've turned the volume down slightly for the first time," he says. "If we come back next year we'll have a better understanding. It's unusual that we're only doing one week - eight performances.
"It's a toe in the water. It's an experiment, and we would love to come back for a longer period."
Haylock appears onstage to open the show and bids the audience farewell at the end, but says that the pacing make the role of an emcee between acts redundant.
"The show is always around the two hour mark and always plays in two parts. The rhythm is important. There is an emotional arc. The pace is quite relentless - things topple over each other," he says.
"It's very bold, it's very cheeky, it's irreverent. There are a number of moments that almost demand that when you go to work the next day you will say to everyone, 'You will not believe what I saw last night.' The spirit of the show is universal. It has this huge beating heart, and I'm very proud of it. I think it will resonate with a Hong Kong audience."
La Soirée, Sept 16-17, 7.30pm; Sept 18-19, 7pm, 9.30pm; Sept 20, 5pm, 8pm, HKAPA Lyric Theatre, 1 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, HK$395-HK$1,095, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 3128 8288