Peacock Theatre, London
When I first pitched up in Soho (more years ago than I care to remember) I was given some sound advice by a chap I met on a pavement. “You can be anything you like here. A straight beggar, a gay thief, a whore, a drunk. Wear women’s clothes, or nothing at all. Just don’t be fucking boring!’ This chap could have been describing the cast of characters on show in Stufish’s Soho, which celebrates a state of mind, as much as a peculiar square mile in London’s West End.
A young man, danced by Alessio Motta (his character is unnamed, as is the entire cast of international circus performers and dancers) arrives in 1950s’ Soho and time-travels through seven decades in 24 hours. Although visually stunning (as you would expect from designers and producers Stufish) and performed with astonishing technical dexterity by the young and uniformly attractive cast there remains a hole in the centre of this production that no amount of circus wizardry quite manages to fill.
Not so much a metaphorical allusion to Soho but the direct consequence of over-ambition.
Act One takes us through Soho by day, and it’s an exhilarating trip, never more so than when we drop by the gym. The slow-motion pas-de-deux performed by a pair of sparring boxers to a soundtrack by Daft Punk is breathtakingly beautiful, and juxtaposes the more nebulous lunchtime picnic with Donovan in Soho Square that follows. (More hash cakes than sashimi).
In a nice touch, the issue of affordable housing (or lack thereof) and the understandable envy the poor feel towards their millionaire neighbours is depicted by a dance filled with regret and anger, in a housing co-op, to the nihilistic rage of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen”, which ends, fittingly with (sometime Soho resident) Mozart’s Requiem.
All of Act Two, which takes place at night, could be described as a requiem of sorts, as we voyeuristically spy on a hooker preparing to hit the streets (keep one eye open for the hilarious cross-dresser perched beneath the eaves), take in a wild night at the now defunct travesty bar Madame Jo Jo’s, and dance up a storm in a side-splittingly funny Colony Rooms – funny not least because the Colony never looked as clean and inviting in real life as it does on stage this evening!
For those who knew Soho as it used to be there is no figure more touching than the elegant gent who stalks the stage throughout in top hat and tails, equal parts Mad Hatter and the late, much missed local boho Sebastian Horsley.
By now our neophyte guide has shaved his green horns and learned that “Anything Goes”, a wildly exuberant end to a show that has much to recommend it; Dazzling dancing (occasionally on the floor), gravity-defying aerial ballet and heart-stopping trapeze. Yet, for all its bewildering brilliance and beauty, Soho never truly manages to describe the indescribable.