Croydon Cabaret Festival review: Ada Campe at the Spread Eagle pub theatre, Saturday 13th May

By - Thursday 25th May, 2017

An eccentric and mischievous night with the engaging Ms Campe

Photo by Naomi Paxton, used with permission.

“Hold the beans to my temples, my dears. It’s very important that you don’t break contact!”

These words are seared in my memory, just like the wild stare of Ada Campe, star of ‘Ada Campe in Cress’.

The show, part of the Croydon Cabaret Festival at the Spread Eagle pub theatre in Katharine Street, combined comedy, magic and great British eccentricity to create an engaging hour of entertainment.

It was Ada’s stare which both drew me to the show and made me nervous to see it. You can sense from the publicity photo just how keen it is. The theatrical eye make-up may emphasise the effect but the intensity is all Ada’s.

So the show had my attention even before our star – the creation of performer Dr Naomi Paxton – appeared. Playing over the PA system was a ska version of the Soviet jazz classic ‘Moscow Nights’. The audience and I were no longer in a room in Croydon, but in the world of Ada Campe.

And what a world! A world where a young Ada is inspired into showbiz by a pantomime baby cow, where a fellow variety act called ‘Vegetari-Alan’ can conjure broccoli florets between your knees, and where mysticism pours from the pages of an Argos catalogue. In a splendid feat of misdirection and delayed gratification, the 1,000-page Argos catalogue played the centrepiece of a magic trick in which the pay off appeared a full half hour after the trick began. Although, while the magic in her act was satisfying, it may have been too humble for audience members who were after spectacle.

Ada is excellent, mischievous fun

Make no mistake though, the spectacle was Ada herself. Her outfit brought to mind Willy Wonka and Alison Goldfrapp, but with a pink blazer which could well have been made for Gloria Hunniford. That mix of curious and homely, surreal yet personal was reflected in her stage manner too.

She would not simply say, “pick a card” but instead would burst forth with “when you feel moved, my dear, and not before, I want you to say stop or when or make a sound of alarm. Howl like an ape, gibber like a wolf, just do something!”.

She made for the kind of eccentric you would ‘just about’ let babysit for you. She’d keep the kids entertained, no doubt, but you’d worry what they’d pick up. All of which is what made the Ada Campe experience excellent, mischievous fun.

Croydon Cabaret Festival continues at the Spread Eagle pub theatre until Friday 3rd June.

Neil Ridulfa

Neil Ridulfa

A life-long resident of Coulsdon, but also a bike seller, event director, singer and part of the first wave of creative writing graduates from the University of Surrey-Roehampton. Find me on Twitter or working at Cycling Made Easy.

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