Reviews: Club Swizzle ★★★★★/ Michael Jackson – On the Wall Exhibition ★★★★ / Bring it on – The Musical ★★★★

Club Swizzle ★★★★★

By Peter May

Club Swizzle is booze-soaked, expletive-ridden, belly laugh-inducing variety show from the creators of the wildly successful La Soiree. But while La Soiree is a well-oiled variety show, with Club Sizzle there are fewer boundaries. Think of it as a late-night cabaret bar where performers might gather after a La Soiree show. The vibe is loose and inebriated.

From the moment you walk into the venue it’s on. Barmen are juggling chairs, the band is in place and bar is bustling, then just as everyone takes their seats, the bar is transformed into a stage. The vibe in the room is electric and the audience love every part. From clowning to aerial hoop, burlesque to pole dancing, there’s something in this show for everyone’s taste level. The action you see is underscored to perfect time by a live band, which improvises along to what’s happening on stage. And of course there’s a little bit of audience participation to go with it.

The show is hosted by Reuben Kaye (Ruby) – in a bright, glittery jacket and enormous black eyelashes which as he likens to tarantulas stuck to his face – gets the show off to a high-energy start with his powerful cabaret voice and jokes flying at a rapid pace. Kaye is an exceptional performer who establishes the tone of the evening.

Petite Belgian singer and burlesque artist Laurie Hagen’s first appearance is as a sozzled stripper in pink who struggles to get her gear off; later, she returns all in black, using a man from the audience to produce further belly laughs. The Club Swizzle Boys, stylishly dressed as waiters, are fantastic with their acrobatics, balancing and athleticism. They jump through hoops, climb and perform on a pole, are lifted up high by their wrists, balance, flip, slide, smile and continually surprise with their skills. Club Swizzle is a relaxed night of circus, musical theatre, vaudeville and comedy, which should leave everyone feeling full of life.


Until 26 August, Roundhouse



Michael Jackson – On the Wall Exhibition



It’s nearly a decade since the King of Pop took his last breath so in time to honour his memory comes this interesting, entrancing and bonkers exhibit sure to put a smile on your face. Michael Jackson is still number one on the highest-earning dead celebrities list and with over one billion records sold, including Thriller, the bestselling album of all time, there’s no denying that he is a veritable magic maker. He often collaborated with a range of artists such as Andy Warhol (whose portraits of MJ are on display here), Kehinde Wiley and Martin Scorsese, Jackson’s metamorphosing image and brand were carefully cultivated, creating a solo superstar phenomenon. It should come as no surprise then, that Jackson serves as perfect artistic fodder.

This exhibition is not a biography or even about his career, as most super fans already know that well trodden story. It’s a collective reaction of almost 50 artists to his cult image, inspiration and legacy. The exploration of Michael Jackson’s visual cult starts with the isolation of his final commissioned Kehinde Wiley portrait on a vibrant red wall. Mounted on a horse and donning late medieval armour, in emulation of Philip II, he is recognised as ‘The King’. Sadly he didn’t live to see the finished picture, but I think he would have liked it for sure.

The following suite of galleries explores Jackson’s childhood and early stardom in the Jackson 5. Candice Breitz’s 16-channel video, in which we watch a line-up of 16 screens with each one featuring die-hard German fans singing their way through Thriller, track-by-track is amusing and rates high on the cringe factor.

Then there is Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom’s sculpture made out of 20-plus helium-filled balloons that butt up against the ceiling while the ribbons with which they have been tied lead to a pair of penny loafer shoes held up en pointe; balancing in the moment as Jackson did in his famous “freeze” dance move. Even Bubbles the chimp gets his own section in the exhibit. With so many portraits of Jackson, we can see how he changed his appearance dramatically over the years and how his ‘persona’ became more complex as he grew older. This exhibition is like its subject matter, entertaining but a little bizarre; the reality of a child star who became one of the most famous musical artists in the world has often been subsumed by myth and legend. Well worth seeing.

Michael Jackson: On the Wall is at the National Portrait Gallery, Until 21 October.




Bring it on – The Musical




Bring It On is one of the most popular musicals on Broadway but now it arrives in London for a limited time.  It tells the story of the cutthroat world of competitive cheerleading and the fierce rivalries of American High School politics. The result is a high-energy, breathless musical treat and there’s no doubt that some of the young cast are very much stars in the making.

The pace of the show is tremendous with high-rise human pyramids; wild throws and lifts which are made to look easy by the hard-working and clearly passionate cast. The musical was inspired by the 2000 Kirsten Dunst movie, and it shares a similarly driven central character, her blonde ambition channelled exclusively into the pursuit of cheerleading excellence. The show gets off to a slightly sluggish start, establishing Campbell as Truman High’s new cheerleading captain, determined to steer her squad to another win at Nationals. There’s some fun stuff with her fellow uber-blonde, Skylar a vain popular girl who revels in her power to be “a raging, castrating beyotch” – she scores many of the wittiest lines. When the acrobatic ensemble of dancers and athletes flips and flies through the air, forming pyramids or serving as human stilts for their fellow cast members, their feats are as impressive.

If you jumped on board the Lin-Manuel Miranda train because of Hamilton, you will enjoy this as he co wrote Bring it on. The score is good, Miranda provided an assist on music and lyrics with Tom Kitt and Amanda Green, a tantalizing song writing team on their own merits but understandably bolstered here by Miranda’s singular and signature talent for blending classic musical theatre with rap and hip-hop.  Repeatedly Bring It On certainly gives fierce face, but it also backs up that glittering grill with just enough sinew and substance — musical, physical and textual — to put it in trophy contention as a worthy, weightless delight, a guilty pleasure you needn’t feel too guilty about.


Until 1 September, Southwark Playhouse


Bring It On