Cabaret and variety review: Mat Ricardo vs the World, Laughing Horse @ City Café

Undoubtedly one of the greatest variety artists at work today, Mat Ricardo is an outstanding juggler and much more beside.

Mat Ricardo vs the World, Laughing Horse @ City Café (Venue 85) ****

As well as showcasing superbly realised feats of dexterity, Ricardo’s shows are underpinned by his deep knowledge and love of variety forms and histories, his endearingly barbed and quick-witted relationship with the audience, and his willingness to express what performance means to him personally, often in courageously vulnerable ways.

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All of these qualities are to the fore in Mat Ricardo vs the World, a high-concept show a year in the making.

After three decades in the business, Ricardo invited the public to challenge him to learn some new tricks; this show gives us the highly impressive fruits of his resulting efforts.

Without giving away too many specific details, some new tricks offer variations on the kind of juggling, balancing and fast-handed expertise that is Ricardo’s stock in trade while others take him further afield.

There’s a brilliantly tense routine inspired by an action movie, flirtations with forms adjacent to juggling such as magic and escapology and novel takes on golfing and cup-stacking.

It’s all performed in a small basement room whose sightlines aren’t all they could be, requiring a certain amount of neck-craning and even seat-standing.

The close quarters do give an extra frisson to the work, though: one trick provoked the purest gasp I’ve ever heard at such a show. Ricardo puts the room’s video screen to judicious use too.

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As well as showcasing technical expertise, Ricardo makes clear how this kind of work, this kind of challenge, literally helps keep him sane, providing a functional way of playing his general
anxiety disorder off against his obsessive compulsive disorder in a “mental health death match” that happens to yield a compelling performance.

It makes for another great show from a master of his form.

• Until 26 August, 12:30pm