This venue used to be the old Atlantic Bar & Grill off London’s Piccadilly Circus, but it’s now been reinvented for a new generation, and walking in to the Brasserie Zedel is an experience in itself. Various eye popping Art Deco interiors vie for your attention, not least the dizzyingly powerful horizontal black and white stripes of the Crazy Coqs cabaret space itself.
This is where Clementine, who calls herself The Living Fashion Doll, will perform her show – an unusual blend of straightforward puppetry (such as ‘Yvette the Usher’ who opens the show and introduces the star) but also includes individually crafted short films, classic songs from the shows and witty dialogue. Clementine says she is looking for a narrative hook on which to hang the show and has decided on an explanation of how the show came about.
What follows is a very loosely held together series of epigrammatic scenes across the whole range of theatrical presentation.
Clementine kicks off with ‘Broadway Baby’, the first of two Follies numbers, and we marvel at her awesome lip-syncing ability, (check out the long-hold notes from the likes of Streisand – you really have to take your lips on a journey to work those tunes); Hello Dolly is a case in point and is delivered with laser precision. Visually, she is actually an extraordinary blend of real life – an immaculately made-up human face (and therefore comically oversized) atop of a 6inch couture clad puppet.
Next up – a bizarre puppet called the Crazy Rooster sings ‘Pull My Strings’ in the style of Elvis or Tom Jones and is a delight – the expert puppetry really comes into its own here as you actually start to believe the thing can fly. ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’ from ‘High Society‘ is an opportunity for more miniature high fashion and Clementine is a vision in fuchsia ostrich feathers.
The Copacabana Fantasia was the highlight of the show. Like everyone else I have heard this song so many times but to see it visualized in a suitably demented and kitsch way was the standout moment of the night. The Copacabana Club is presented on an usherettes tray, and minute puppets are Lola, Tony & Rico, as their exciting but rather disastrous night at the disco unfolds (hey – we’ve all been there right?).
It brings out that extraordinary childlike ability to actually believe in the puppet reality for just one moment. A gesture, a movement, the drop of a puppet head, the flick of a sequined skirt 3 inches long is enough and your imagination fills in the rest. The transformation of Lola from perky showgirl to the mad lady at the end of the bar is astonishing and connects emotionally.
With no slack in the pace, Bertie Barfly appears, all iridescent green and blue & multiple eyes, and performs Harvey Fierstein’s ‘I Puke’ from Torch Song Trilogy. A suitably revolting spray came from his mouth in time to the chorus – we have such a forgiving audience tonight!
So who is this extraordinary Clementine, what is her secret, her allure?. We may never know her back-story but there is a little known fact: Mark Mander, a puppeteer from Norwich, is listed as doing wigs, hair & makeup for Clementine but they have never been seen in the same room at the same time. Go figure!
Clementine mentions how excited they are to be performing in the West End. The postcode is correct but lovely as the venue is, the shows’ production values are more Edinburgh Fringe rather than the Theatre Royal. Nonetheless – it’s funny and occasionally saucy, heart-warming rather than Avenue Q obscene. Stylistically it’s a hotch potch, a rag tag, a potpourri – but I love it – never knowing quite what’s coming next and how it will fit in – if indeed it does at all. I quite like having that sort of ambiguity thrust into my face and the quality of the sum of the parts really does satisfy.
Clementine Christmas Special at Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zedel. Wednesday 20th December 2017. Reviewed by QUEERGURU Correspondent : JONNY WARD