Words by Faye Armstrong, image courtesy of Racquel Diaiz.
Early Tuesday evening and I’m killing time in a coffee shop; my friend is late thanks to a ‘work crisis’. She’s obviously good at her job. I wonder how it would feel to correct mess, not create it. I suspect it would be nice; unfamiliar but nice.
A pair of lesbians necking in a booth yank me from my thoughts. Wait - one pulls back - it’s not a girl but a guy. A hippie; all long hair and tie-dye t-shirt. His smile seems to say ‘it’s all good’ and so it is, my friend is knocking on the window.
‘Why were you staring at that couple?’ she asks me. ‘Why do you assume they’re a couple?’ I reply. She shakes her head. I smile widely. The witty dissonance, it’s why we get on.
I tend to be gleefully tolerant of bad behaviour. While the flagrant display would have been off-putting for some, for me the mildly scuzzy performance was entertaining.
For this reason, the Naughty Magic Exxxtra show at Volupte was always going to please. Any show that requires the use of more than one ‘x’ in its title is certain to be obscene.
To get to the action I had to descend downstairs, and just as that young inquisitive Lucy passed through the wardrobe to Narnia, my portal into Volupte presented itself as a heavy velvet curtain. A boutique club, it’s dark, and like a child’s teddy bear, it’s a little worn, the result of too much overzealous love.
I can see why, it’s hard not to get excited by the small space. Burgundy paint and textured wallpaper, miss-matched chairs and wall murals, mirrored room dividers and vintage lampshades. Shelves hoarding leather-bound books and dusty Hendricks bottles, intriguing wooden boxes and solitary shoes. It’s not so much a room as an Aladdin’s cave of the pre-1950’s era. All a bit muddled, and yet it fits together perfectly.
But all this was only a momentary distraction; the lights dim, the microphone buzzes to life and I’m lost to everything else for the next two hours.
I am aware that I enjoyed the trio of fish; Earl Grey cured Loch Duart salmon, Sardine escabeche and pickled mustard herring, but it was the consumption of something much less tasteful that left me satisfied.
Christian Lee, a hybrid of magician and comedian, anarchically performed a card trick. Christian’s illusion is not smoke and mirrors but a haphazard method whereby he disarms the audience into thinking he’s a fraud (because of course all other magicians are not). He stumbles his way through with lucky guesses, awkward charm, and the occasional distracting ‘gimp mask’ remark, yet somehow always culminates his expression of shock with the correct card.
As I’m served my miso glazed monkfish cheeks with pak choi and a carrot and chilli broth, other acts take the spotlight. A hula-hooper called Angel, hailing from the Bronx, NY, rhythmically manages to use all her limbs to get an impressive 20 hulas whirling, while barking sexually explicit quips at the male members of the audience. As it turns out, Angel isn’t the foul-mouthed vixen from the Bronx she claimed to be but, by her own admission, an East end ‘chav’. Somehow I feel cheated.
Canadian prop comedian (or possibly Welsh sheep herder), Wes Zaharuk, had me wishing I’d practised my kegel exercises more religiously. He was side splittingly hilarious and appropriate in the shows inappropriateness. Watching an overweight, middle-aged, furry-chested man secure toilet plungers to his nipples was spellbinding and, surprisingly, didn’t put me off my food – I either have a strange fetish for things toilet related or my chocolate brownie and pistachio ice cream dessert was just that good.
As we stepped back onto the streets of London my friend inquired as to my thoughts on Volupte. I commented that alcohol dissolves reticence, or at least dilutes it and Volupte serves a lot of alcohol. The hippie couple would love it here. And on the show itself? Magic hasn’t been this funny since Tommy Cooper. And half his appeal came from the fez.