Hippodrome Casino, Leicester Square, London; 3rd July 2014
Circus Of Men is a variety night that’s unashamedly about sexual fantasy, and tonight’s world premiere is superbly hosted by the eloquently raunchy Ophelia Bitz.
I will admit to my doubts before seeing the show, based on the frankly sexist publicity (tickets initially for Ladies Only?!) Luckily, I was pleased to discover a more astute awareness of sexual politics than the promotional material let on. “Circus Of Men” is, I think, a misnomer. This is a Circus Of Women. Women’s desires, women’s liberation from the patriarchal gaze, women’s freedom to embrace their sexual nature. We don’t mind if men join us, but it’s on our terms please.
The unabashed luxury of the glamourous Hippodrome casino is a fitting set for the evening’s entertainment, and I’m delighted to note the decor pays grand homage to the building’s history as a show venue. As our show begins, Ms Bitz is revealed seated behind a heavy office desk in power black, slowly smoking a large cigar. When a junior office boy enters to wolf whistles from the crowd, drops his paperwork on the floor and bends to retrieve it giving a full view of his tight posterior, we realise this is not just a show about women gawping at men, but about subverting male-driven sexual routines. Party to Bitz’s office fantasy, her two juniors dance for us, stripping their tops off (although without a hint of tease).
A sadly unnamed male acrobat – who I’ve just found out is Stephen Williams – turns up at the desk of another female worker and woos her with a suggestive hand balance routine across the desk, and even her own swivelling office chair. There is a clever sense here that, even though the woman is not in control within the scenario, she is in control of the fantasy.
Up next is strongman Leopold Aleksander (aka The Mighty Moustache, aka The Lion of London, aka Daniel Crute), with his gentlemanly conduct, paisley waistcoat and colonial era moustache. It’s nice to see him perform without a microphone; it adds to the veracity of his Victoriana, and helps create a genteel and intimate bond with the audience. Taking us on an educative journey of love and victory, the massively muscled man bends bolts, folds frying-pans, and demolishes fruit, drawing us into his world with oblivious well-spoken innuendo and a polite rapport with the audience at all times.
It’s now time to don the blindfolds we were given at the door and, linking hands with those around us, harness Bitz’s dubious powers of mentalism to summon the next fantasy act. The effortless synchronicity of the contortionist Du Sol Sisters, Delia and Yvette, on aerial hoop is never explicit, but allows our own sapphic imagination to do the work.
After the interval, a wittily choreographed ‘Diet Coke Break’ leads Edd Muir into his Chinese pole act as he flashes his builder’s bum. Though he may not be a natural flirt – or an actor – he is a strong acrobat (although I do find myself distracted as his body keeps glancing against the pole’s tethers on this small stage).
After some more gleefully intelligent smut from Bitz, Muir returns but, this time, as the passive object of ‘Marika’, who practises the slow Japanese art of Shibari rope bondage to truss him up. It’s an intriguing concept but, as the audience appear to have been forgotten, rather boring to watch.
Williams presents a graceful aerial chains routine, where the beauty of his floating body among the dust motes and delicate beams of light contrasts well with the hard edge of the swirling chains and dub soundtrack. We have some audience participation as a woman from the audience is invited onstage for a sex-tape lap dance from ‘Throberto’, and the finalé is a hot pouting adagio routine from Ali & Klodi (Ali Temple and Klodi Dabkiewicz). Her bendy dynamism, coupled with his wide-eyed shirtlessness, seems the perfect choice for tonight’s female-powered evening.
Far from the brainless voyeurism I had expected, I leave Circus of Men feeling emancipated. Still not sure the name’s right though, as the satire was never apparent until the show began. Although the initial marketing did cause quite a stir… An interesting feminist provocation but, without seeing the show, you’d never realise, and take the sexism at face value.