Review: BATSU, Underbelly Boulevard

The ballsy, boozy gameshow from New York comes to Soho

By: Nov. 27, 2023
Review: BATSU, Underbelly Boulevard

Review: BATSU, Underbelly Boulevard Batsu: it’s not subtle, it’s not for the sober and definitely isn’t suitable for children. The ballsy, boozy gameshow from across the pond invades London for some late-night improv comedy shenanigans at Underbelly Soho.

That to enjoy Batsu fully probably requires at least a few shots of the very available sake is not necessarily a bad thing. Some of the finest musical works of the twentieth century have required some form of drug or other in order for them to be fully appreciated: listening to Pink Floyd while not on psychedelics or Miles Davis without weed was almost heretical in the Sixties and, even now, hearing those artists' early output without pharmaceutical input can be terribly dull.

Batsu is a Stateside success story, with over 2,000 performances in New York to its name. It has now stretched west to Chicago and, in its debut European season, eastward here to London’s Underbelly Soho. Previously known as the Boulevard Theatre before shutting down due to the pandemic, the red light district’s newest venue promises to be a hub of cabaret and comedy in 2024 and will soon be joined by sister venue Madame Jojo’s early next year, according to owners Soho Estates. 

The premise is simple: four improv artists or “comedy warriors” do battle over a series of games with the losers facing increasingly bizarre forms of “batsu” (punishment). Failure is not only an option, it is pretty much the point of the night as we see this quartet being hit with paintballs, eating sushi off a naked hairy chest and getting zapped by a shock collar. Masochism and sadism has never been this much fun outside a sex club dungeon, apparently.

Those looking to get up close can purchase special hachimaki headbands with their ticket or just before the show. Wearers are entitled to two shots of sake from wandering ninjas, a ringside seat and the opportunity to be pulled up on stage to join in the action. There’s plenty of opportunity to get a headstart on the drinking with an ample half hour or so between the advertised start time and when the audience are welcomed into the theatre itself. 

Once the lights do go down, it’s not for long. Our compere, the Irish-Japanese writer-director ShayShay (The Witches of OzMulan Rouge), introduces themself, their pint-size dominatrix co-host Piku-chan and what Batsu is all about. The latter then gives us a LED hoop routine which is energetic and fluid but - given what can be seen just down the road at La Clique - hilariously tame. After that, the lights go back up and we’re encouraged to - and I quote - “get f*ckin’ hammered”. 

When the show does get going again, it does so with great gusto. These “comedy warriors” go through some improv games which range from the childish to the tedious via the occasionally engaging while we await to see how the losing team members are punished. The contestants are highly unlikely to win Oliviers for their acting but, by the end, we are fully behind this group of young, charming masochists on a mission.

Audience members are treated with respect and, should they end up less than victorious, they still walk off with body parts fully attached and a ticket to a future evening with the Batsu crew. With a renaissance of late-night Soho entertainment on the way at Underbelly Soho, this alcohol-fueled comedy night perhaps sets the tone for what is to come.

Batsu continues at Underbelly Soho until 26 January.

Image Credit: Batsu