Crazy comedy where the laughing locals love to lose control
Upon entering the theatre at Tivoli, it was overwhelming to see the place completely packed out on a Monday evening. The feeling was further intensified when a rather large gent in a toga took the stage and asked how many had previously attended the cabaret, and about 80 percent of the audience’s hands went up in a flash.
This year’s show, ‘Smartacus’, is set during the days of the Roman Empire, when rich men, ladies of the night and gladiators looking for glory all roamed the gritty city streets feeding their curiosities. The intertwining narratives include a struggle for power, forbidden love – and not in a romantic way, might I add – treachery, and quite a few bloody murders typical of the standards of the day.
Our hero, a very Scottish Smartacus, manages to escape the dull fate of slave life and marches across Italy, collecting a loyal band of revolting rebels along the way. As the rather ‘incestuous’ story unfolds, we meet a barrage of crass characters, just to name a few. There’s Russellus Crowus, the ‘Aussie’ Roman who is a “father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife and nephew to a messed-up uncle”, and the luscious lady Blondina, a rather wide-eyed character and ‘jack of all trades’, whose interest in the warriors proves most entertaining. The posse of slave warriors band together to fight their common enemy, Nauseous Villainus Crassus, who plans to enslave Smartacus and carry him off to Rome to perform in the arena for the infamous Emperor Caligula-la.
Moving from the steamy whorehouses to the gruesome arena, this rather rude Roman soap opera unfolds in a swirling wind of slapstick humour, vulgarity and comical sound effects. Immediately reminiscent of Monty Python, the over-acting and uncouthness of the performance induces more than a few laughs. As promised, it’s an ‘orgy’ of activity as the characters jostle each other for the prime position, but I won’t spoil who ends up on top.
The performance was highly entertaining, with a whole lot of prancing, dancing and breaking out into ballads. Of course, it wouldn’t be Ancient Rome if there wasn’t a fair amount of cross-dressing – including plenty of padding in more places than one – and as expected, a little nudity thrown in for good measure.
The atmosphere was not one to be forgotten, being one of the most unique theatre experiences I’ve had to date, as I sat rather sheepishly amongst a sea of cackling Danes. Throughout the entire performance the crowd got tremendously involved, shouting out in participation and roaring with laughter at almost every joke – even the actors had difficulty containing themselves at times.
Vivienne McKee’s production also takes a few good stabs – pardon the pun – at Danish culture, mostly involving the Viking warrior Brian Bluetooth, which definitely had the vast majority of the crowd wiping away tears of glee.
With all the singing, dancing, glitz and glamour it’s definitely cabaret. Not sure I’d call it particularly ‘Christmassy’, but it’s certainly crazy. If you’re in the mood for something festive and amusingly crude, ‘Smartacus’ is a must-see. You may be the only foreigner present, but seeing the normally controlled and conservative Danes let loose is an experience in itself.
‘Smartacus’, this year’s Crazy Christmas Cabaret, will continue its run at Tivoli until January 4.