My favorite thing about Christmas in London has got to be all the fairs and festivals, which sprout up in practically every borough with an array of crafts, gifts, and spiced drinks at the ready.
My second favorite thing is the Maltesers Merryteaser Advent Calendar.
For my birthday a couple of weeks ago, Matt bought tickets to La Soiree, a traveling circus-cum-burlesque show that has set up camp in London’s Southbank Centre for the winter season. I knew nothing about the show other than that 1) Matt’s roommate (who recommended it to us) nearly peed himself laughing in some parts, and 2) front row tickets came with a warning: “ringside seat holders beware”.
Since both of us would rather feign sudden unconsciousness than be called out for audience participation, he played it safe and got us seats just behind ringside. Other than that, I had no idea what to expect.
But before that.
La Soiree is part of Southbank Winter Festival which is a festive wonderland featuring winter-weather dishes, mulled wine, pop-up Alpine cider lounges with bona-fide fire pits, a Christmas tree maze, and handmade goodies. The setup is really cozy and intimate: the kiosks are tucked beneath trees strung with Christmas lights, which light the pathway from one stall to the next.
I got to Southbank earlier than Matt and decided to wait at the Rekorderlig Cider Lounge, which had been decorated to look like a ski lodge. Rekorderlig is a popular brand of cider, but the lodge afforded the opportunity to try their hot cider. This is likely the closest I’ll get to being in an Alpine ski lodge for a long time, but you take what you can get.
Peeking out of the corner of that picture is the London Eye, which everyone assures is a ripoff. It does make for a pretty view though.
The view from the second floor of the lounge. Beneath the Eye is the Winter Festival’s Christmas Maze, which sounds like what it is.
It wasn’t a terribly cold day so I waited outside with some food from the Scandi cafe outside the cider lounge.
These Swedish meatballs covered in creamy gravy were just the warm, savory dish I needed. Underneath was a potato fritter, and the pickled beetroot that accompanied it added a crispness that cut through the mushy texture.
Naturally, this is the time Matt decided to show up and eat all my food. Here is a wonderful selfie to commemorate our time at the lodge.
I wish I’d gone around and taken more pictures of the different activities and kiosks available, but then again it’s better that I didn’t. Sometimes I feel if you become too focused on taking nice pictures of an event, you disassociate yourself from the experience a little. Like, by opting to extensively share your experience with a wider audience, you give up some of your personal connection to that experience. It’s not a criticism by any means: I just think finding a balance between sharing some experiences and keeping others private is the healthiest blogging choice for me.
Anyway, tangent over. After meatballs I got some waffles! These are from a place called Waffle On which does the market rounds.
They specialize in breakfast waffles, but after those meatballs I was craving something sweet.
This was supposed to be a waffle with goat cheese, a blueberry compote, figs and possibly strawberries. However, they were running out of ingredients so I just requested grapes and a dollop of the vanilla-flavored cream that was available on other waffles.
Waffle On was just a few steps away from the entrance to the La Soiree circus tent. We went in right as the doors opened, primarily because it was super warm and toasty in the tent and it was starting to get chilly. Bonus points: a full-service bar and a generous amount of stalls in the ladies’ toilet.
Matt got a bottle of champagne to nurse before the show started. We drank it while watching a guy and his girlfriend dry hump in front of us. It was fascinating in the way watching a snake molt is fascinating; a certain disgustingness that compels you to keep watching. We had a popcorn.gif moment. Literally, there was a popcorn machine so we got some popcorn to snack on.
[EDIT: I think karma must have disapproved of my judgmental comments because after I hit “Publish” on this post, it wiped out everything that came after this. Aaargh.]
Onto the show!
The performance area is set up much like a circus tent, with seats arranged in a circle around a tiny platform that features one set at a time. We actually could have sat closer to the stage as the “ringside seat” price applied to the first 6 or 7 rows, but were quite happy with our boardwalk seats since we were in the first row of that section and slightly elevated from the ringside.
However, the warnings about front row seats were true: the opening act featured Puddles Pity Party, a giant somber clown who wailed love ballads while wringing his hands through an audience member’s hair.
I described La Soiree as “Cirque du Solei meets burlesque”, and while that gives you an idea of what to expect, it’s not entirely accurate. La Soiree is its own special thing. Part circus act featuring physical feats only achievable by people who are part pretzel, part naughty striptease, part variety show comedy, and part plain strange as hell, La Soiree drew out a variety of reactions from an appreciative crowd, from awed gasps to “I’m-laughing-so-hard-it-looks-like-I’m-crying-help-me”.
While I loved all the acts, my favorites in no particular order are:
- Marcus Monroe, whose deadpan juggling act was a cut above the rest (not that I’m an expert on juggling acts…)
- Asher Treleaven, whose dramatic reading of a Mills & Boon novel had me weeping and clapping like a seal
- Jonathan Burns, whose contortionist act right after Asher’s made me gasp for breath, I was laughing so hard
- Ursula Martinez, who had the naughtiest sets but also the most hilarious (impressive considering one was entirely in filthy Spanish)
- The English Gents, because feats of strength in nothing but briefs must always deserve some love
Our night also featured the debut performance of Saulo & Anna, touted as the “world’s first flying pole duo.” It’s hard enough doing a split on a stationery pole, so imagine a split on a pole swinging through the air, whilst holding onto a person who is doing the same thing. A beautiful and breathtaking performance.
La Soiree is among the top 5 shows I’ve ever seen. If you’re in London, I strongly recommend you go catch it!
It will be at Southbank until January 11 2015. Tickets start at £15 for standing room (but it’s closest to the bar, so it’s quite a good spot to be) and go up to £67.50 for posh seats. I think our boardwalk seats (£37.50) give the most bang for your buck, but go early so you can get the first row in that section. If you want front row seats, be extra early and prepared to cough up £47.50. However, keep an eye out for deals as they’re bound to have them for certain dates!