The familiar figure of the red-bearded, deerstalker-bedecked Dr Bent van Helsingør limps onto the stage in his sensible Ecco shoes to announce in his hilariously halting English: “My name is Dr Van Helsingør from Elsinore, but you can call me Bent!” The well-rehearsed audience gleefully bellow back: “You’re Bent!!” This seemingly irrational and madcap behaviour can only mean one thing. Yes, it’s the same procedure as every year: hold on tight to your togas because the Crazy Christmas Cabaret is back in town with the swords and sandals spectacular 2013 show Smartacus.
Written and directed by the irrepressible Vivienne McKee since the early 1980s, the show had its humble origins in a tiny café theatre with a cast of four British actors and a pianist. The show proved so popular that they were invited to appear on the DR TV programme HOPLA by legendary TV presenter Otto Leisner, and their irreverent antics captured the imaginations of the Danish viewers. The London Toast Theatre was here to stay, and today Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the much-loved Crazy Christmas Cabaret, now played out to full houses in the splendid surroundings of Tivoli’s Glassalen Theatre.
Over the years, the show has all kinds of twists and turns – but has always remained faithfully true to its typically crazy and anarchic humour, which the London Toast Theatre describes as being “as British as fish and chips and warm beer and as Danish as frikadeller and a kold bajer i hånden”! It’s this lethal cocktail of downright dastardly Danglish, slap-happy slapstick and boundless bawdiness that sees the Crazy Christmas Cabaret on top of the Christmas wish lists of more than 60,000 sniggering cult-followers each year.
The always eagerly awaited production, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, has won a place in the dangling Christmas hearts of the Danes who are more than ready to boo the most villainous of villains and sing enthusiastically along to adapted musical numbers. With titillating titles over the years such as Tarzan, King of the Swingers, Hitchcock Up and Bent, the Gladiator, you soon get the picture: classic pantomime at its very best, with a twist of satirical Danish cabaret (revy) humour thrown in for good measure.
In keeping with the times, the show is unashamedly environmentally-friendly, as recycled running gags and returning heroes of yesteryear are the norm. This year, in the theatrical epic Smartacus, the tragic figure of Russellus Crowus, the homesick Aussie, who is still trying to cure the down-under problems he suffered from in 2002’s Bent, the Gladiator. Opening in the shadows of Vesuvius, the show should be a non-stop volcanic gas from the pomp of Pompeii to a romp in Rome. It promises to be an orgiastic evening of fun with vomatoriums thrown up and sadomasochism thrashed out as the London Toasties return to the sleazy slave markets and gory gladiator schools of the Roman Empire.
The hero of the piece, the chisel-chested Smartacus Bondage, has lived his life like a ‘sandal in the wind’, and he boldly leads his belligerent and malodorous band of truly revolting slaves across the boot of Italy, meeting a cast of thousands along the way. The audience will be treated to the unlikely likes of oddball characters such as Ekonomi Krisis, the Greek loser, Brian Bluetooth, the Viking warrior extraordinaire and Silvius Berlusconnius, who is not so much gladiator as ‘glad he ate her’. The raucous boos and hisses are reserved for the vile villainous baddie, Nauseous Pompus Crassus, who has vowed to grab Smartacus firmly by the manacles and drag him screaming to a battle where only the fittest to fight will survive in the arena of the notorious tri-sexual ‘thumbs down’ Emperor Caligula-la (who is completely ga-ga!)
McKee is an expert at tickling the respective funny bones of the Brits and Danes, and the show just wouldn’t work without the sharpest understanding of what cultural cages to rattle. This year her name is conspicuously absent from the cast list, apparently to concentrate 100 percent on directing the madcap proceedings, but surely the good Dr Bent van Helsingør will make a guest appearance in one cunning guise or another. The cast includes the familiar faces of thespians ‘Dame’ Andrew Jeffers and David Bateson, together with the returning Katrine Falkenberg, Rebecca Kelly, Bennet Thorpe, Henrik Lund and, fresh from filming in Los Angeles, Ryan Smith. Special mention should also go to Kirsten Brink, whose absolutely fabulous costumes and sets have been a joy to behold for 26 years.
The smarting whip of witty wordplay is bound to induce groans of guilty pleasure in a spectacular performance that threatens to make Lars von Trier look like Disney. So if you want to witness the flagrant flashing of weapons, see what’s worn underneath the loincloth, double up with laughter at the double meanings, and slavishly wallow in a tale of “blood, sweat, passion, incest, sandals, sex, satire silly gags and bad body odour”, then get cracking and reserve a seat in Tivoli’s Glassalen arena to witness the all-singing and dancing Crazy Christmas Cabaret 2013 production of Smartacus!
Crazy Christmas Cabaret
Tivoli Glassalen, Cph V; starts Tue, ends Jan 4, daily performances Mon-Fri 19:30 & Sat 15:00 (Dec 24-26, Jan 1); tickets 150-350kr, under-25s: 80-280kr, www.billetlugen.dk, www.teaterbilletter.dk; www.londontoast.dk