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saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Gold Gold Gold - Alternative Opening Ceremony
Spiegeltent - London Wonderground, Southbank
26th July 2012


It's never good when something starts about 15 minutes late. Alarm bells begin to ring, especially as the show, at the Southbank's Spiegeltent, was already scheduled not to finish until 11. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I like to be at least close to bed, preferably with some cocoa, by then.

Following the alternative Eurovision, this cabaret Olympic Games opening ceremony (The police won't get me if I use the word 'Olympic' in this context, right?) was simply an excuse for the weird and wonderful of the Wonderland to come together and be very odd. Right off the bat, the immaculately-dressed Anna Greenwood got the crowd involved with - what else - a rendition of Gold by Spandau Ballet. Usually these things make me cringe slightly, but the audience were clearly up for it. One person in particular was practically exploding with enthusiasm.

Anna's presenting style can be best described as comical, intentionally underprepared, ditzy and over-the-top. Initially, I was wondering whether Frisky and Mannish's Lady Fitz Frisky might not be a better choice, but as the evening wore on, Anna's charm, foul-ups and routines really won me over.

The first of eight acts was something for the ladies in Latino Joseph. His act consists of acrobatics, or, should I say, one acrobatic trick, which is balancing on his head on a trapeze. Then making that trapeze move a bit and doing it again. Then making the trapeze spin in circles and doing it again. Undoubtedly impressive but the law of diminishing returns quickly set in. Still, he took his top off at the start, which all the women seemed to appreciate.

Anna bounced back out again in her second costume change of ten (others included pineapple and boxer) to introduce burlesque-y hula-hoop artist Lilikoi Kaos. Her cheeky routine was a big hit, with a precision, speed and skill seen only on the best. To put it briefly, lots of hoops on every part of her body at giddying speeds. She certainly knew how to work the tent and pulled off some of the more impressive moves of the night.

Third up (and my personal favourite) was card thrower-cum-stand-up Javier the Card Ninja. Like X-Men's Gambit without the superpowers, the reality of his precision card-throwing was infinitely better than the concept. It was his disarming self-deprecation that really shone through, constantly cracking jokes about his heritage, his act, and showing a wonderful relationship with volunteers. Plus, he threw a playing card into a watermelon. How cool is that?

Then came drag act La John Joseph, who was on the receiving end of a slightly baffled reaction. His laid-back approach was a stark contrast to the high-octane physical feats and... erm... card throwing drama that preceded it. He's undoubtedly fabulous and his song/beat poem/anecdote made me laugh, but his terrific acerbic wit and philosophical quotations seemed lost on a lot of people.

The final act of the first half was the award-winning EastEnd Cabaret, AKA diva Bernadette Byrne and half-man, half-woman Victor Victoria. The playful and perverse pair performed a particularly rude song about sneaky self-love. Their singing was faultless, their interaction excellent, yet I couldn't help but feel the tune was a touch sixth form. There were laughs to be had, but we had moved away from the highbrow sexuality of La John Joseph into something more puerile - and not hugely witty with it. Our fellow patrons seemed to disagree, though, with the title of the song being gleefully screamed out throughout the second half from the more... lubricated... members.

After a short break, juggler Ian Marchant took to the stage. The besuited comic juggled hoops, balanced tennis rackets, spun balls and caught a tea-tray. While he did fumble a couple of times, his underdog spirit - and being unsure of how much was an act - ensured we all remained on his side.

Famous former Riverdancers Up and Over It came next, with some inspired synchronised swimming without water. If the name seems familiar, that's because they've appeared on Britain's Got Talent, America's Got Talent and a slew of other breakfast and tabloid TV shows with their Irish hand dancing. Moving away from hands-only routines, the world-class Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding showed off some ballet, tap and skipping, all with fag in hand and Red Stripe cans at the ready. Totally inspired, rather hilarious stuff.

Last up was the camp of the camp, The Lip Sinkers. Have a guess as to what they do. Go on. Yup, dressed in Cinderella rags, made-up to the eyeballs, the drag trio lip-synched to Meatloaf's I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That). Gloriously bonkers, utterly over-the-top, each personality shone through as they battled it out for attention on stage. It was a delightful, bizarre piece to end on and its barminess summed up the night perfectly.

There was no doubt that it was slightly hit-and-miss and the overall audience vote saw Eastend Cabaret secure the gold. But the sheer silliness of it all, the sense you were all part of one huge joke, could win over even the most cynical observer (i.e. me). I saw Danny Boyle's official opening ceremony and sure it was good, but I can't help thinking it could have been improved with some lip-synching, card throwing and a hyperactive brunette introducing all the countries.

Gold Gold Gold took place on 26th July 2012 as a special one off event.

Nearest tube station: Waterloo (Northern, Bakerloo, Jubilee)

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