James Bond's films have thrilled audiences, across generations, for more than 60 years. The taming of the brusque action hero, a man so comfortable in his masculinity as to order a martini with his own set of preferences, is what makes James Bond the embodiment of charisma and class. Bond is precision, enigma, and pure reverie. He is the ticket into secret rooms with high ceilings, high-stake poker games and high-level espionage. Bond elevates us. I can safely say, that ‘London Never Dies’ does not fail to ascend its audience into this same realm of fantasy.
We enter through the entrance of The Terrace at Bloomsbury Ballroom – an outdoor space that has been ‘inspired by Parisian brasserie culture’. We are welcomed by sharply dressed security guards who have decisively carved their territory apart from their Saturday-night club bouncer counterpart. From this moment on, the red-carpet experience is rolled out and cascaded down the marble stairs that descend into a lobby dimly lit by gorgeous antique lamps. Bloomsbury Ballroom boasts that it is ‘London’s Opulent Art Deco Venue’, and the familiar opulence of the James Bond franchise is anything but muted; a wall covered in flowers, a gilded throne, bottles of champagne in chillers lining one side of the wall of the Long Bar. Our hands are made free of our coats and umbrellas, and instead find themselves clasped around a glass of champagne as we’re led through the Long Bar into the Rose Room. It becomes immediately clear why this lounge is named as such. Bathed in a soft magenta light, it is a room that seduces you. The amber tones of brown liquors reflect in the glass on the wall adding another touch of warm richness to our already very comfortable setting. Waiters in bow ties and smart waistcoats show us to our table with stools positioned at the sides of the lounge and in full view of the small stage for our light entertainment. We are invited to order some tapas and small plates: salt and pepper squid with siracha mayo, sautéed chorizo, king prawns with chilli. Noticing the black studded leather sofas, and gilded gold doorframes, in the pink light, there is a real Playboy club vibe in here too. The cocktail list itself gives us the pleasure of enjoying the exclusive exoticness that is often enjoyed by 007; I order the Tropical Rum ball.
The evening starts off with our first singer, Paul McDowell. His voice is smooth, and never misses a note. He is like Michael Bublé without the nauseating Christmas cheer. This is followed by a performance by Hannah Waddingham who includes ‘This is a man’s world’ in her set list, which when glancing around the room at the two women whose roles are almost purely ornamental – wearing what I can only liken to the puppet created for the National Theatre’s War Horse production on their heads, and glittering bodysuits revealing their long legs, making me feel like a garden gnome between two gilded statues of Athena. But then again, didn’t we all have an ornamental role to play tonight? The wonderful thing about immersive theatre is that it reveals a fundamental relationship, a hidden contracultural obligation, that we have with the world. We need people to play their parts and fulfil their character descriptions. I find myself scoffing at the outfits of some of those who clearly did not take the dress code as instruction, but as mere suggestion.
In between these acts, we are able to acclimatise to our surroundings, and sink deeper into the warm bath of sounds, and ambience. There is chatter, patters of applause, clicking of glasses and the decadent, plummy notes of instrumental piano.
Table-by-table, we were personally invited to enter the ballroom, where we would enjoy a 3-course meal and a bottle of wine. The magic continues with walls being illuminated with a projected animation of silky fabrics reminding us of the luxury of Bond. We are serenaded by our singers, whom we were acquainted with earlier, with songs such as Dean Martin’s ‘Sway’, and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. As we prepare for the arrival of our gin and beetroot cured salmon, we are serenaded by a man floating through the aisles between tables indulging us with tunes such as ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ on saxophone. The salmon, is excellent and beautifully plated. It whets our appetite for more of this delectable evening, that satiates all of our senses.
The performances are a combination of feats of the human body, with stunts complimenting the melody and beat of the music, and performances of all of the best James Bond opening songs, including ‘Skyfall,’ ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘For your Eyes Only’. There is even an impressive light show which stuns the audience. We were seated relatively close to the stage, as Gold ticket holders (£90 each), and could visibly see the taught muscular tension in the Adonis body of the acrobat doing a handstand across two stacks of bricks. There isn’t a performance that disappoints us, and it is apparent that they have consciously made sure each performance is unique with multiple costume changes and the diversity in performances. The costumes are breath-taking. For the Shirley Bassey classic ‘Diamonds are Forever’, we have an instrumental performance with dancers wearing headpieces that are made to look like long woolly tendrils that cascade down their figures, that move like the elegant arms of willow trees as they twirl and sway on stage. My favourite performance of the evening was Hannah’s breathtaking performance of ‘The World is not Enough’. Wearing a long, glittering crimson dress, she mirrors a dancer sat across from her to give the illusion of tracing her own reflection in a vanity mirror. During these performances, we indulge in the main course of roasted guinea fowl, beef fat potato and Madeira jus. For dessert, a delicious chocolate and orange parfait with clotted cream.
Whilst the show has a seamless flow in general, the only part that felt abrupt, and perhaps even out of place, was the introduction of a dog onto the stage. Though I did hope that the dog wouldn’t be made to do tricks, as I feared that this would cheapen the show, it also seemed anticlimactic, strange, and unnecessary. For a cabaret show, and particularly for James Bond themed cabaret show, I had hoped to feel the suspense of the famous laser scene in Goldfinger. Something that would have us gripping the edges of our seats, that felt risky, that felt undeniably 007.
The evening performances end, but in some ways the night only just begins as the DJ sets up on stage and initiates the after-party. For those of us who perhaps haven’t bought their dancing shoes, or have mellowed out after the last deadly martini, the Rose Room awaits us with its comforts and cocktail shakers at the ready.
Overall, this show is nothing short of spectacular. The staff are integral in maintaining the seamlessness in this immersive experience by giving you a first-class class experience. London does not die, because it is kept alive with nights like these.
There will be a ‘spooktacular’ Halloween adaption of London Never Dies, with a decadent Mexican Day of the Dead twist inspired by the Bond Film, Spectre on 29th and 20th October. Guests can choose from Silver, Silver Plus, Gold, Diamond and Royal Diamond tickets.
Review: Sukhmani Sethi