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Simon Cabaret | they've got'Je ne sais quoi' by the bucketful.

The Folies Bergère, the Crazy Horse Saloon and the Windmill Theatre all became world-famous, based on the irresistible draw of pulchritude, pulsating rhythms and provocative costumes. Of course, they all also had that indefinable something, that ‘Je ne sais quoi’, which set them apart from, and above, the merely tawdry. Welcome to the new boys on the block.

  Phuket City

Their website says in describing their top star, that, "She's more of a man than you'll ever be, and even more of a woman." As so often happens in this Land of Smiles, things aren't always quite as they appear to be, at first sideways glance. Still don't get it? OK, let me spell it out for you. All the cast, man and boy, are… well… men and boys. Baldly, they are ladyboys with long locks, lean loins, lingering looks and the longest legs you've ever dreamed of – Thailand's unique, confusing contribution to the notion that the battle of the sexes is a two-cornered fight. However, don't be put off. If you're expecting male-voice choirs then you're in for a disappointment.

The Cabaret is situated a little way away from Soi Bangla, the Patong epicentre. The theatre is a big, windowless building that is easy to find, as it's mainly decorated in a rather violent tint of violet.

I met with Khun Richard, the general manager, in the bistro-style bar in front of the theatre, just before the show and asked how and when this phenomenally successful 'show-business' business, started out. Samrit and Virat Rouyrin (the man-and wife inspiration for it all) opened the first Simon Cabaret in Pattaya 20 years ago and it was an immediate hit, so when they moved to Phuket two years later and opened up shop in Patong, they were sure that they had a winning formula. Apparently, at this time, nobody else shared their confidence. The 'Simon' in Simon Cabaret, by the way, is the owner's brother.

Khun Virat still does all the choreography hands-on, so even though they now employ more than 200 people (of which 80 are performers), and have many other business interests, it's still very much a family business.

The theatre can seat 600 people and is equipped with the latest sound equipment, state-of-the-art lighting effects and smoke and aroma diffusers.

I asked Richard if the girls (for simplicity's sake, let's ditch the 'nudge nudge, wink wink' stuff ) were easy to work with. He admitted with a wry smile that, "they could be difficult!", but was then quick to defend their professionalism, fitness and commitment. They practise for up to four hours a day, he said, and then there are two shows on top, each lasting for an hour-anda- quarter. It can take up to a year to develop some of the routines. Who wouldn't be difficult?

Intrigued, I immediately enquired if I might go backstage and was met with a polite but firm refusal. The media all want to do this he said, but it's 'verboten'. It would've been rude to insist, but…

Whilst Richard and I'd been talking, the bar had become busy. It was a full house he was informed, so while he rushed off to arrange a ticket for me, I wandered around. The crowd was truly international, mostly families, from all corners of the world – a diversity which would be mirrored in the show to come. Vaudeville, it seems, is alive and well. Its allure and magnetism undulled by time, or national differences.

I joined the expectant crowd and we found our seats, waiting a few brief minutes while strobes picked out gold and diamond shards on every sharply sculpted and silken surface. The violent violet house colour was now a subtle, shimmering lilac. The ceiling high above was a midnight universe of constantly moving, glittering gems – the charged sense of mounting excitement was tangible. Floor-to-ceiling loudspeakers only murmured, just hinting of their potential for future visceral crescendos.

The house lights dimmed.

Then, with a sudden violent clash of cymbals, the stage came alive. This was a riot of coruscating colour, glamour, sequinned gowns and gloriously beautiful, scantily-clad girls and boys, all moving in a fascinating and hypnotic display of the purest symmetry. I really can't remember most of the detail – I was overwhelmed by the immaculately crafted and captivating celebration of song and dance.

It would spoil it for you if I were to attempt a blow-by-blow account of each routine. Quite beyond me. Omar Khayyám would have struggled. The costumes, scenery and drops were absolutely breathtaking and each curtain call was performed with mathematical precision from brassy Tina Turner numbers, to a haunting, ethereal and visually sublime Madame Butterfly refrain, that still lives with me.

After the show, the cast came outside for a photo-op and I now hoped for a quick interview, but I'd no sooner got up-close-and-personal with Golf, Jeab, and Ai, and asked the key question, "How come your headdresses never fall off?", when the occasion exploded into a mêlée of posers, poseuses, peacock plumage and Polaroid paparazzi.

Reluctantly, I slipped away.

Getting to Simon Cabaret

The cabaret is slightly away from the centre of town on Sirirach Road heading towards Karon. If you have your own transport, look out on the right, for an imposing figurehead of a provocatively dressed siren, above a large stainless steel water sculpture.

Otherwise, all the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers know it. However, the easiest way is probably just to buy a ticket from your hotel tour desk and this includes complimentary transport to and from the theatre.

  Photo gallery : Simon Cabaret | they've got'Je ne sais quoi' by the bucketful.


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