Review by Raphael Kohn
What can be said about the crown prince of filthy cabaret that has not been said already? Hated in his native Australia for his naughty jibes about a certain religious figure (with jokes that cannot be published on this website) and loved in London for his signature brand of filth, cheeky humour and the odd moment of heartfelt imploring for queer acceptance, Reuben Kaye is back in London and the city is all the better for it.
It's perhaps not the first thing I’d expect for a festive season, but it blows every festive show on in the capital out of the water. One can expect from Kaye plenty of gags about every bodily fluid under the sun, as well as every possible act one can do with their genitalia, in jokes and routines that shock just as much as they amuse. It’s genuinely quite surprising just how much Kaye gets away with, as his jokes are so close to the line so much of the time, but it is testament to his genius that it’s always just about on the right side of that line. Or maybe it’s just his stunningly long lashes, batted at the audience as he beams with the full knowledge of what he just said, that keeps you onside.
Kaye is a master comedian, with a knife-sharp wit as his lines stab into figures in the public eye. Nobody is safe from Kaye’s attacks – nor should they be. Practically the entire Conservative party gets roasted, as does the Catholic Church, as well as the Royal Family, in jokes so finely crafted there was not a single person in the audience left unsmiling. His viral clip of fast-paced, rap-like condemnation of those in charge of our countries and the devastation they have caused to the world over centuries features, and it’s honestly a marvel how he manages to pull it off every night.
It is often suggested that the test of a comic is to see if they can emotionally engage as well as entertain an audience, and Kaye surprises as he does so effortlessly. A love letter to queer acceptance and the importance of supporting queer people, Kaye forms a narrative about coming out and being accepted that follows the ebbs and flows of the piece perfectly. It never gets preachy, never falling into traps of putting the political before the personal, but his heartfelt storytelling is utterly sublime. Never wanting us to lose focus on the comedy either, Kaye punctuates this with utterly filthy interjections throughout to our shock and surprise.
But his expertise is not limited to stand-up – nowhere near. Kaye is also a tremendous singer, belting out tunes with vocal power the likes of which would send many performers into a jealous rage. Interspersing his comedy with his music, it’s a finely crafted performance, with Kaye’s powerful voice taking the reins most of the time. There’s some mastery at work in his vocals as he allows himself to strip it down a bit, andreveal a more vulnerable side in the much more emotionally engaging second half, with quieter vocals and a touch of falsetto drawing us ever closer to Kaye.
It’s something of a solo show, but Kaye is not the only one on stage. Accompanied by a stellar six-piece band of Matthew Herd, Lizzy Gregory, Tom Gardner, Cammy Maxwell and Joel Prime, led by Shanon Whitelock, who bring some punchy enthusiasm to the songs, as well as using just the piano in the quieter moments for atmosphere. There’s no way this show would have worked so well without them – a perfect addition to Kaye’s raucous energy. Similarly, the truly stunning lighting by Harry O’Meara, frequently blinding the audience with its bright rays and flashes, is a real treat that always adds to, and never detracts from, Kaye’s performance.
‘If the world is ending, let’s go out with a bang’, Kaye says. Frankly, I wouldn’t want the world to end any time soon, if it does, it would mean I wouldn’t get to see Kaye live again. And really, that’s not an eventuality I want – seeing this master performer with his top-notch natural charisma, utterly (and wonderfully) obscene humour and tremendous vocals is something I practically require to happen again in my life. And it needs to happen in yours too – I mean it when I say that Reuben Kaye has to be seen to be believed.
Reuben Kaye: The Butch Is Back plays at the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre until 30th December 2023. Tickets are available from https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/performance-dance/reuben-kaye-butch-back
Photos by Holly Jackson