Whisper it quietly, but even the theatre world hankers after some high-class cabaret action now and then.
This week sees the start of the Hightide Festival in Aldeburgh. Ostensibly a celebration of all things dramatic, this annual festival of new plays takes place over ten days on the Suffolk Coast. Its mission is “to support theatre-makers to say something different, by allowing them the time and the resources to create something that is outside of the norm.” So, nothing to see here for fans of cabaret, right?
Wrong. So, so wrong. Amidst the legion of luvvies and grads from RADA, Italia Conti et al emoting for all they are worth, there will be some rather delectable shows. Here are our top tips of what to catch and when.
Bourgeois & Maurice: How To Save The World Without Really Trying
Dominic Ferris and Martin Milnes are a unique combination who have played to sold-out houses in London’s St James Theatre. Dominic is a pianist extraordinaire; Martin has “two voices”. Together, they explore the American songbook in their own particular fashion. Here’s a studio version of their number performed live at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in “Hey, Old Friends!” An 85th Birthday Tribute to Stephen Sondheim.
The critically-acclaimed quartet (above) bring their brand new show to Hightide Festival before a London run. An updated version of a classic tale, expect chuckles and tunes both original and lovingly borrowed from the likes of Nick Cave, Amy Winehouse and Rage Against The Machine.
This September, Mondays will be worth getting up for.
There are few shows that can be described as “an experience” but Miss Behave’s Game Show is certainly one. There are only three more chances (Mondays 5, 12 and 19 September) to catch it at the sumptuous London Wonderground, the capital’s cabaret cathedral which shuts up shop this month for another year.
Part-interactive pub quiz, part-cabaret, all-crazy, there is nothing quite like this raucous riot. Let’s be clear: this isn’t some cheesy panel show which will be repeated at 2am on Dave. The women here aren’t token faces to keep the politically correct and the amateur statisticians happy. There’s not just games as Miss Behave and her tall, bearded showgirl sidekick Harriet have some rather excellent acts and some unusual prizes up her glittery sleeves. The action is pre-scripted to an extent, but only to an extent; much of what happens is down to the audience. And you will need your mobile phone charged and handy. No excuses.
Still not sold? Here’s the lady herself telling us all about it.
If you skipped to the end, here’s all the information you need: Miss Behave’s Game Show is at the London Wonderground on 5, 12 and 19 September. Tickets are a very reasonable £12 (including £1 online booking fee) and can be purchased right over here. Get to it.
Clown performer Francesca Martello writes for us after taking part in the Edinburgh Fringe #CircusVoices residency to develop new critical languages for the circus sector, run by The Circus Diaries with support from the Roundhouse, the Network of Independent Critics, and Crying Out Loud…
The excitement was big.
I have seen Nina Conti on television many times, and was looking forward to see her perform live; working such a huge crowd.
I’m lucky enough to find a seat in the fourth row, just in front. As I sit, though, a thought crosses my mind; is there a specific reason nobody’s sitting here? Am I risking being picked out to get on stage?
The lady next to me chuckles and tells me to be careful if I don’t want to be picked. The atmosphere is bubbling with excitement… Like when you are 14 at your first parties, standing by the wall waiting to be asked to dance: you’re not really sure if you want to be asked to dance, but just the thought makes you happily anxious. This seems to be the sensation of the first 5-6 rows at a Nina Conti show.
The answer is obviously yes, I am at risk, but eventually the gentleman next to me gets the “pleasure/ torture” to step on stage. What a release… and what a shame!
For those of you who don’t know Nina’s work, I’ll try to give a brief explanation of her craft. This comedian explores the old technique of ventriloquism that, basically, works thanks to our survival mechanism of always wanting to make sense; finding the familiar, the reconisable in the world.
The name comes from the Latin, meaning to speak from the stomach: venter (belly) and loqui (speak). The noises produced by the stomach were thought to be the voices of the unliving, who took up residence in the stomach of the ventriloquist. The ventriloquist would then interpret the sounds, and they were thought to be able to speak to the dead, as well as foretell the future.
In the Middle ages, as with most inexplicable things, the technique was thought to be similar to witchcraft. The shift from ventriloquism as manifestation of spiritual forces toward ventriloquism as entertainment happened in the eighteenth century at the travelling funfairs and market towns. Ventriloquism became more of a performance art.
Scientifically speaking, the craft is a part of a series of studies in multi-sensory integration – the study of how information from the senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, self-motion and taste, may be interpreted through the nervous system.
A coherent representation of objects that combines the senses’ input enables us to have meaningful perceptual experiences. Indeed, multi-sensory integration is central to adaptive behaviour because it allows us to perceive a world of coherent perceptual entities. But at the same time it still has a bit of mystic sensation to it; Nina is the complete creator and manipulator of the world that surrounds her.
Ventriloquism describes the situation in which perceptions normally based on hearing cues are shifted towards visual ones, and Nina’s technique is brilliant. At the same time, her humanity as well, since she is not working just with her monkey puppet companion, but with living people from the audience.
Through specially designed and made half-masks that cover the bottom part of the volunteer face, Nina Conti manages to transform people, randomly picked, into collaborative puppets. The effect is hysterical.
And she is a great host, always attentive to the volunteers and ready to find the comic side of situations. Her timing is excellent and she seems to have such fun that you often forget what she is really doing – she is another one of us (just with a bit more control). Down to earth, she is like the funny, fit auntie that some of us might have had.
Nina Conti uses the technique that was once used to speak to the Gods to speak to the people. Brilliant!
In Your Face. Performed by Nina Conti. Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance, EH8 9TJ. 20:00. Until 29 August. SOLD OUT http://www.ninaconti.net
Those tempted to go down to Brighton this weekend are in for a treat. Known best for its vibrant gay scene, variety shows have been relatively rare in this seaside town but, going by examples like Veronica Blacklace’s Cabaret Boheme and Cherry Shakewell’s Double-Oh Heaven, are definitely of a very high calibre.
A relatively new entrant is Betty Nails and her Sassy Cabaret who hold their first Lipstick & Moustache Convention this Friday. Previously found at the the Nightingale Rooms, this show has upped sticks and moved to the Rialto Theatre on Dyke Road. This weekend it will be laying on a blend of entertainment from burlesque to circus to sideshow to…who knows? Rounding out the show will be some interval magic, walkabout acts and their own Sparkly Sassy Cocktails.
We spoke to Betty to get the lowdown on the convention and herself.
What attracted you to Brighton in the first place? Why have a show here?
Brighton; beautifully buoyant, fabulously flirtatious, deliciously devilish and, above all, salaciously sassy! The place where people can be who they want to be – and proud!
In this setting many a burlesque debut on quavering legs has been made. Hearts have been won and dreams have been broken. It’s all to play for, if you know how to play the game.
Take us back to the beginning of Betty Nails. How did you come up with that character?
Five years ago my alter ego, Betty Nails, entered the scene and dallied around doing solo performances, which gradually became more serious and less “just for fun”. Having a background in performing arts and theatre, I’d always felt that ending up in a 9-5 job was lacking a bit of imagination and therefore wanted a piece of the proverbial glittery action for myself!
Through being “Betty”, I’ve had a rather eclectic and colourful five years and met along the way many wonderfully talented and fabulous people; and some not so much. C’est la vie! Through these acquaintances, be it event organisers, fellow performers, photographers and indeed close personal friends, I decided it was time to exercise my more “normal” OCD side and see about creating a new cabaret night with a performer family feel to it.
So is that how Sassy Cabaret came about?
The name Sassy Cabaret was coined in my bedroom with a close friend when trying to find a suitable word to describe the idiosyncrasies of what was good about burlesque. Sassiness! All performers have it, in one sense or another, and this is what gets us through the most daunting of performances. Channel the sass!
We started off above the decadent Nightingale Rooms and were proud to sell out our first three shows. Every event has a different theme and our audience have been very forthcoming in joining in with shenanigans, which is lovely to see.
We are now heading to slightly bigger ventures with our official move to The Rialto Theatre for our upcoming Lipstick & Moustache Convention this Friday. This show promises to be our most lavish yet, with cabaret seating, white table cloths, rose petals and a whole array of some of my most favourite Brighton talent.
What would you say makes Sassy Cabaret different?
What possibly makes Sassy different is that I choose to have a variety of styles of performance for each show; there will be a mixture of classical burlesque, neo-burlesque, fire, contortion, hoop, belly dance, magic, song, theatre, all within one show.
I take my queue from my roots “maiding” for the most excellent Club Smooch. Those of you on the Brighton scene ten years ago will know what I am talking about! Lovely vibes, great atmosphere, attentive and enthusiastic performers; a true cabaret variety show! I strive to honour this format with everything I do regarding Sassy Cabaret.
How has the show grown?
I now have a little band of Sassy performers who have been there from the beginning, along with a growing number of newbies who I’m having back for future shows because they’ve appreciated the whole experience. There is a lot of positive energy at our shows and I think it reflects in the enjoyment of our audiences.
If you are a Sassy virgin, do please come along to our next show and see for yourselves! You will always receive a warm welcome! Glitter is not officially provided but you will not leave without a trail of it…
Opening next week in London, Blanc de Blanc is the latest circus spectacular from Scott Maidment, the man behind hits LIMBO and Cantina.
Featuring an international cast of jugglers and clowns, the new show will take over the Hippodrome’s cabaret space and comes with a bold concept from Maidment: “One of the things I wanted to do was push it to the extreme and whereas in a lot of cabaret nudity is done in a sexy scene or can sometimes be vulgar, I wanted it to be fun and almost a clown number. It is actually based on the performer’s nightmare of being suddenly naked on stage and what do you do?”
Before the fun starts, we spoke to the man himself about this highly anticipated show.
Hello! Let’s get the most burning question out of the way. What’s behind the title of Blanc de Blanc? Does it hint at themes in the show or is it something a tad more abstract like No Fit State’s similarly-titled Bianco?
I’d actually say it’s a bit of both. Blanc de Blanc is a type of champagne that uses only white grapes – the translation is literally “white on white” – and the show is themed around champagne. I also just like the onomatopoeic nature of words “Blanc de Blanc”. The sound of those words smashed together really reflects the comedy elements of the show – plus there are some great onomatopoeic words around champagne like “pop” and “fizz” that just perfectly sum up what Blanc is about. It really does pop and bang.
You know a lot about our shows! I travel the world going to festivals and seeing shows; I see a lot of performances and performers. I’m always on the look out for exceptional people and astonishing talents that will be new to an audience. Blanc is no different.
Both Cantina and LIMBO caused quite a splash when they arrived in London in the Spiegeltent. Why have you gone for a more theatre-like space for this latest show?
We have created quite an installation in the tiny showroom at the Hippodrome. Just like LIMBO and Cantina were created for the Spiegeltent, I wanted to create a show that worked with the space. Blanc was created for places of celebration and a party space. When I was in London choosing the right theatre, I wanted to do something outside of the Spiegeltent and outside of a traditional theatre. Considering the rich circus and cabaret history of the Hippodrome from around 100 years ago, it made it the perfect space for Blanc.
Cantina had a strong Western/outback aesthetic which has been seen more recently in more recent shows like Cirque Alfonse’s Barbu, Empress Stah’s The Raunch and Company 2’s Scotch and Soda. What do you think is the appeal of that particular location and era?
I think circus has a timeless nature. It harks back to the old and, in some ways, lost times. Cantina wasn’t really set western times – it was maybe more of a 1920s world – but I think all those shows hark back to the timelessness of circus.
LIMBO received some criticism over how the female performers had little to do until the last quarter of the show. Was that a deliberate artistic choice?
The girls actually did the strongest and most amazing performances within LIMBO, but because of their amazing looks were perhaps pigeonholed. All of the performers had a physical as well as emotional journey in the show and I feel the girls themselves were truly amazing performers.
Do you feel that there is a common artistic thread running through all your shows?
The only artistic thread is the idea of wanting the audience to have a good time. It’s about a great live experience that undoubtedly has a visceral connection between the audience and performers. I want to leave the audience feeling they are under no misapprehensions that the performers are there directly and primarily for them and in Blanc de Blanc it’s all about the party.
We have one pair of tickets for next weekend’s wildest event The Goblin King’s Masquerade Ball. For a chance to get your claws on them, read on.
A wonderful darkside of fantasy, The Goblin King’s Masquerade Ball on Friday 29 April promises to be a brilliant kaleidoscope of London’s greatest underground circus, music and cabaret performers at this immersive ballroom party. Here’s a taster of what the Ball was like last year:
Held at the Coronet, this latest Ball celebrates the 30th anniversary of Jim Henson’s cult film Labyrinth as well as being a tribute tothe Goblin King himself, David Bowie: “It is with bittersweet emotion that we gather this year to celebrate the life of The Goblin King after his tragic disappearance – an untimely vanishing from the many realms. He ruled with a stealthy claw and a fool’s heart, rendering us helpless to all he offered. His words touched thousands of lost souls whilst his music bewitched all. The Mortal world knew him by many names, but one stands out from them all – Bowie. We knew him as Jareth.” Ten percent of the profit made from this event will go to charities supported by David Bowie.
There will be no chance to be maudlin, though, as there is a fantastic bill of cabaret to lift even the most sunken of spirits. Expect top-notch circus and sideshow hijinks from the likes of Snake Fervor (Double R Club, Lucha Britannia) and Hauk Pattison (Cabaret Boheme), music from the suave Arthur Foxaque and burlesque from Pearl Grey who came through the heats and won the 2014 Burlesque Idol contest with this particularly splendid routine. Full details of the acts can be found here.
To be in with a chance to win the tickets, answer this question correctly.
David Bowie’s Goblin King character in Labyrinth was called:
The winner will receive a pair of standard tickets to The Goblin King’s Masquerade Ball to be held on Friday 29 April. For full details on on the event, please see the official website.
The competition’s deadline is 12pm on Wednesday 27 April 2016. This Is Cabaret will choose one winner by lucky draw and contact them by email with details on how to redeem their prize. By submitting an entry to this competition you confirm that you are at least 18 years old and have read and accepted our Terms and Conditions.
If you’re not feeling lucky, tickets for The Goblin King’s Masquerade Ball can be purchased online (£25 each or £100 for five).
May The Farce Be With You is the latest themed cabaret night to hit London and is inspired by epic films of intergalactic drama and their many spin-offs. We sent intrepid explorer, Arthur Foxaque in to make his presence felt and find out what-the-Jedi is going on. Please note: no Bothans were harmed in bringing us this information.
‘May The Farce Be With You’, is a new sci-fi themed soirée devised and produced by the quartet of Niki Stevens, Tom Baker, Dominic Jones and Jake Stevens, and is much more than just an amusing pun (not just about one franchise in particular). Those stepping into its spaceport for the night will see the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club has been temporarily converted into an orbital station. In their second outing, the Rebel Alliance is called to assemble; the audience can recline with a drink and think of Alderaan as they enjoy fancy dress fun and a highly tongue-in-cheek cabaret variety show. Before the end credits roll, they will have witnessed Lucha wrestling, Twi’lek showgirls, strange songs, bespoke masks, a laser-wielding Yoda and an orange-faced house band. What’s not to love?
The Bohemianauts’ Tom Baker, dressed as an X-wing pilot, introduces the night’s theme and the evening’s host Jones who plays Admiral “it’s a trap!” Akbar.
As a horny Admiral Akbar, our charismatic host, Dom Jones, plays a galactic lothario draped in three mysterious gold painted Twi’lek showgirls. Adorned by a spectacular headmask and a blue sequinned jacket, Akbar sets the tone (low) and barrages the room with quick-fire quips. Without skipping a beat, he accepts command of the Rebellion with an admirable absence of modesty.
The Twi’lek Trilogy are not just here for decoration: beneath the glitz and head-dresses are fire performer Luce Lemons, fine artist Sinead Miller and blues chanteuse Milky Sugar. When not escorting Admiral Akbar, they glide about the club in tight formation, baffling everyone with their Twi’lek babble while casually pilfering the occasional drink. Two of these miscreants, Lemons & Miller, made the Akbar & Binks masks especially for the show!
Super Luchadoras In Training (SLITS) roll up as the first act. Two different Princess Leias were amongst the brawling luchadoras before “Sue-bacca” battered them all and carried Darth Vader off over her shoulder through the crowd. I am still trying to come to terms with this space oddity [sorry].
As Grand Moff Tarkin, Simon Lukacs brought a refreshingly mundane take on life in the Death Star with an Alan Bennet flavour, “Tarkin Heads”. Did you know that Earl Grey tea and Battenberg cake were indeed in ready supply for Imperial Fleet top brass? Every day is a school day.
Akbar returns to play the game “Tracker Bar or Trap!” wherein a volunteer is blindfolded and asked to test various nutribar products and guess which are the real flavours and which, well, aren’t and never likely to be.
No sci-fi piss-up is complete without a costume competition. Even Admiral Akbar, in all his coked-up narcissism, tries it on in the line-up! My costume was the best, of course, but I refused to participate, as I generously wished others to have a chance to win.
Half time break is played out by the house band, Rum Buffalo who are moonlighting as the ‘RagTag Rebels’ (available for private inter-galactic hire & Mos Eisley cantina brawls).
Later on, RagTag Rebel band leader Jake Stevens appears in his own quite confounding routine. With the aid of a full bespoke headmask, he gives us a song as JaJa Binks in drag, resplendent in a red dress borrowed from his mother. Apparently, he lost the dress after the show and his mother’s going to horsewhip him for it. I’d pay to watch that!
The Fabulous Bakewell Boys appear as quizzical droids C3P-Who? and R2-WTF? Bewildering and painfully funny, these two bots did Yorkshire proud, making an off-world record attempt whilst singing 1980s pop hit “99 red ballons”. Surrealist confusion abounds and there’s more where that came from…
HP Lovebox (a Cthulhu-masked Tom Baker) returns to the cabaret stage in greater context than ever, with a joyfully daft rendition of “Always look on the light side of the force”. We all whistled along to this winning version of the Monty Python classic.
Avant-garde artist and cabaret performer, Apple Tart, topped the space soiree with a master Yoda re-hash: channel hopping on the big screen until she found a lightsabre duel on channel 186,282 with her laser guided remote control baton. No one was certain how to react to that or knew what the hell to do next, which is why you rarely forget Apple Tart’s performances.
So the cabaret was closed by the house band, followed by DJ Slim Chance playing disco hits. Because… well, why the fuck not? The Wrong was strong!
“May the Farce be With You” will return to BGWMC on (when else) May the 4th 2016, for more interstellar Silliness. Strike While the Irony is Hot.
I’ll be there, dressed as Indiana Jones. Again. What will you come as? Use the Farce wisely…
Watch this space for the future adventures of Arthur Foxaque.
So where would one start, reviewing cabaret, in Edinburgh…? A show that celebrates the best of traditional and modern Scottish culture in the beautiful Assembly Gardens’ Spiegeltent sounds like a no brainer. And what a treat Le Haggisturns out to be!
The kilted fella who takes my ticket asks if I’m game for a wee dance when I head in and, sure enough, there’s country dancing and mixing and mingling going on with the performers, dressed in tartans, leathers and blue faceprint as we make our way gradually towards our seats. I get out my camera to try and catch a few snaps before the inevitable ‘phones off’ announcement, and manage to catch a pose from lead singer Grant Dinwoodie, who would have blown me away this evening with his rockstar performance even if he hadn’t handed me the rose from between his teeth. The charmer.
The live band has fiddle and concertina alongside the electric guitars and drum kit, and play a dynamic range of Scottish classics from both the folk repertoire and the modern pop canon, with a nod to Rabbie Burns in some of the lyrics. Marianne Fraser breathes into the notes of the folk melodies she sings, and impresses with the range of dynamics she can employ. For emotion, energy and passion, however Dinwoodie is supreme, with a naughty twinkle in his eye and a playful spirit he brings the crowd to life whenever he appears. And, with each appearance, he seems to have fewer clothes. Which is nice.
There are also a few tantalising views for those who prefer the ladies, as Justine Squire performs on the aerial silks while the band sing of waterfalls, developing from pretty poses in a white lacy nightgown and knickers into some interesting holds and crowd pleasing tumbling wraps. It’s hard to know whether Empress Stah intends to reveal as much as she does tonight with an interestingly torn costume but, either way, her serene expression as she performs on the aerial hoop underlines her professionalism.
Ed Muir presents his Diet Coke break Chinese pole act, which is just as steamy as when I saw it in Circus Of Men, and this is the only act that has no apparent connection with Scottish culture – unless director Graham Main considers being a builder to be particularly Scottish?
A highlight for me was the unusual and delicate concertina solo from Mohsen Amini, which builds until we’re all clapping along. The hand-to-hand acrobatics from Jamie Swan and Beata Surmiak are also at a very high level, with nice storytelling and creative choreography too.
The energy grows as the night goes on, and there are big stirring numbers that even a sassanach like myself can sing and stamp along to. It’s a personal frustration that it no longer seems ‘cool’ to announce acts and credit performers any more, so I have to track them down myself afterwards, but otherwise there is no way I could fault this show. A real cabaret of musical and physical skills, presented with verve, humour, elegance and rock and roll.
Le Haggis, presented by Electric Theatre Workshop. Assembly George Square Gardens, Edinburgh EH8 9LH. £15-16.50. 7-30 August. http://www.lehaggis.com
As Buffy once (badly) sung, where do we go from here? Friday night was a mixture of stand-up and drag queens with a big finish from a star of cabaret. What, I wondered, did Saturday have to offer?
Once we’d eaten our way out of our hangover and headed into the arena, I went straight to the cabaret tent to see what was on. As it turns out, not much. There were acts on throughout the day but, and this is an important point in my opinion (which, FYI, means it’s worth listening to), it’s very hard to make cabaret work during the day. I poked my head in when the double act of Lazy Susan was on. I waited a few moments and concluded it must be for kids. There were silly accents, squeaky voices and very large, am-dram type gestures. I backed slowly away and went to, sensibly, find the beer tent.
Cabaret at festivals is a hard one to call. It seems impossible (and I’ll come back to this with Bourgeois & Maurice in a moment) to put good cabaret on during the day that requires an involved audience. Sweaty, intimate, saucy, sexy and funny cabaret needs darkness, a lubricated audience and good lighting. This is hard to achieve in a tent that will not be pulling in huge punters at this juncture (we need representation of bigger names at these things!) and so will not have much spent on it.
Here’s my beef with Latitude’s cabaret tent: there was no burlesque. None. Nada. I saw nobody wearing any tassels and very few sequins. This tent needs burlesque like the Peacocktail bar outside needed burlesque performers to serve bubbly wine to. There’s also a severe lack of variety. Stand-up? In a cabaret tent? Where were the hand-balancers? What about some circus? If you need cabaret that works in the daytime then acrobatics would be great, something kids and adults can be amazed by. I wanted jive dancing, hula-hooping, perhaps lessons on how to do either. Outside was a huge dance stage being used by teenagers learning to belly dance. Why was this not being utilised for a burlesque lesson? Or, better, how about Burlexercise? I could have done with that after all the noodles I managed to ingest.
But apart from what the tent didn’t have, who did it have? You can’t imagine my joy at hearing Bourgeois & Maurice would be performing. I mentioned earlier how cabaret worked best when the lights were low and the audience is well oiled. B&M were put on at a pre-watershed 8pm when young kids were still in the audience. Luckily, Bourgeois only used the C word once but, as he quite rightly pointed out, “you brought your kids here”. Afterwards, Bourgeois told me that he hadn’t even seen the kids in the audience, the lights were that bright.
The pair had an uncharacteristically shaky start with some tech problems and a lyric-memory lapse, but to their credit, they get the audience up and dancing at a rather sedate 8pm, and Bourgeois tells us that he has “no f*cking clue what cabaret is”. As usual with a B&M set, this led into the next song with a story about their journey through learning what cabaret is (not too dissimilar from their journey into what ‘love’ is). Speaking about how they created the Greek crisis was a natural introduction to their biting commentary on EU affairs called Goodbye Europe, with Bourgeois’ voice in fine fettle, although a memory hiccup was an issue again right before the critical line about Greece. Once again, crisis was narrowly averted and the pair were back on track.
In true B&M style there was a lot of wandering through the crowd and involving the audience members with slick one-liners and engaging banter. Bourgeois managed to pull the punters in his performance and said that Latitude was basically, “one very big…polite….orgy”. It was all rounded off with their pyrotechnics: bubbles! Actual ones, not wine ones. Their act would be spot on if they had been placed later on in the bill, perhaps after the next act (Scottee at 10pm). They were great in a tent, they were great for Latitude and they brought some much needed pizzazz, but perhaps 8pm was a little too polite a time to enter an orgy.
At first glance I wrote Scottee’s Party Piece off as lazy cabaret. The premise was this; before the show the audience members were asked to put their drunk party tricks into a hat with their name. Throughout the show Scottee would pull the names out and call up each person. He also roped in Bourgeois & Maurice to judge the performances and see if the act would go through to “Judges Houses”.
I was ready to watch the show and write about how bored I was watching audience members do bad impersonations of famous people. I was actually really pleased that it was hugely entertaining. Basing your entire show on audience participation, especially at a festival, can really backfire on a performer. All you need is to pull up some completely w*nkered twat and end up trying to push them offstage after fifteen minutes. Thankfully, the audience members chosen by Scottee and his assistant Rachel had a great mixture of actually rather skilled people miming to Scissor Sisters songs and the right amount of crap drunk party tricks that involved doing unfathomable things with cups.
Bourgeois & Maurice kept the laughs going with their judgement on each party trick, and both Scottee and Rachel have skits they perform in the show, so that the audience aren’t relied on entirely to provide the material. Rachel’s “Amateur Fruit and Veg Sculpture” was not only funny but skilled, and Scottee’s “aggressive origami” showed talent. The performance poet who won in the end was described by Maurice as “Pam Ayres meets Kate Tempest meets genius.” Only at Latitude would you get a young man onstage voluntarily reading a haiku he had written about being off his tits at a festival.
Scottee finished the show by getting us on our feet dancing the macarena, and I felt somewhat shamed by my preconceptions of a show that was pithy, funny and had a good amount of zing and sass.
Nina Conti, a ventriloquist known for putting puppets on audience member’s faces and manipulating their speech, was on early afternoon on Sunday. This drew the biggest crowd at the cabaret tent, presumably because she has a TV career and people had heard of her. This is certainly not a bad thing. Who knows if any of these people would have come to the cabaret tent otherwise, but the important thing was a big name had drawn a big crowd. More of this please, Latitude.
True to form, Conti brought out the face-masks and had an entire family onstage, some being controlled by Conti, some controlling each other. Conti put a lot of trust in, not only her own ability to pull this off, but the young girls in charge of controlling their parents. For one woman alone, it was impressive. The whole piece was improvised and was created by Conti and the family members onstage. As with Scottee the night before, it’s a tough ask to get your audience to perform for you, even tougher to ask them to perform without performing as you talk for them. At one stage Conti brought the two young daughters up, and when she struggled to talk for all four of them she focused on the youngest girl talking like she was a “dirty old man” – very Pantalone. This, being unexpected, brought the most laughs and so Conti, like a pro, focused on playing this voice off against the others. Before that point, the scene was in danger of falling rather flat, as she struggled to control so many people. As it was, she managed to save the moment, which showed she was paying attention to the show and could see what needed doing to lift it. She makes a difficult ability look easy.
She ended with a short skit where she turned herself into a human puppet. Whilst this was amusing, she had her back to the audience which somewhat took away the essence and illusion at the heart of ventriloquism. The funny thing was, I could see her face from the side and she was still talking with her mouth closed! I bumped into Conti as she came offstage (hobnobbing klaxon) and she asked me the time. I told her, and she realised she had come off the stage ten minutes too early. She asked the stage manager if she could go back on, and when he said no she looked genuinely upset. She spoke to me for a minute and I could see that she had felt as though she had let the audience down. It was really a mark of the kind of performer who does this not just for themselves, but in order to share it with people. I thought that this exchange really summed up what cabaret is for me, and what needs to be remembered when booking a cabaret act. Get someone who doesn’t come offstage saying, ‘YEAH! I finished ten minutes early and nobody noticed!’ Get someone (good) who needs to be dragged away from a hungry audience.
Were you there in the tent? Let us know what you think in the comments.
The Black Cat Cabaret returns this summer with Nocturne, a show that proclaims itself as where “operatic bravura meets circus high skills”. As Wonderground brings back to the South Bank its yearly plethora of cabaret and circus it is nice to witness an attempt to do more than just circus or cabaret, but to mix with it a good dose of theatre, opera and indeed, psychoanalysis.
The show tells the story of a man (Ben Cutler), or rather an archetype, who falls asleep on the tube and enters a world filled with nymphs and sirens (as well as pigs and chickens). That world comes to life through Lili La Scala‘s enchanting voice and a crepuscular ambience, for that’s where Nocturne exists, aesthetically: somewhere on the limit, in the forever twilight of the Spiegeltent. The costumes designed by Magdalene Celeste and the musical choices throughout the show emphasize the dreamlike flavour of the whole endeavour and that’s all very consistent with what the show sets up to do, namely draw inspiration from Freud and Jung’s work on the analysis of dreams.
Indeed, from an aesthetic point of view, Nocturne is a great success. It is dark and mysterious, romantic almost. From a technical standpoint the show is equally stunning, starting with a hand to hand act by Nathan and Isis who re-enact once more the acrobalance routine where both performers are lovers and the guy lifts the girl and the same story is repeated in aeternum in every circus show. Except that in this case the throws and the catches are truly breathtaking and after all why not, perhaps it is fine to perform what can be a cliché as long as you do it extremely well.
Katrina Lilwall executes a very smooth, graceful, arousing chain routine where she embodies the eternal figure of the female seductress. Later on she gives an intoxicating fire performance, for of course the temptress is never to be found too far from the fires of Hell. And the show ends with Bret Pfister‘s aerial hoop performance, a definitive highlight. It is aerial hoop like it should be done but taken a step further with more oversplits, weird poses and painful hangs than anyone else; truly, a wonderful display of aerial mastery.
Circus-wise, Nocturne is indeed a feast for the eyes and it is all carried by the dreamlike, closed-eyes and starry-skied atmosphere. However, where the show shines visually, it lacks in substance. Nocturne sets up to explore the human psyche and the great archetypes that compose it. But it would appear that if you are a man your psyche is busy with only two things: sex and your mum. Old news of course but that’s all a bit too simple.
Amy G plays the role of the mother and gives some of the evening most interesting (and absurd, as are dreams) moments. The trauma of an embarrassing mother, getting drunk at your birthday party, dancing around dressed as a chicken. The fat-shaming. The horror. Now that’s specific, that’s relatable, that feels real.
In comparison the rest of the show feels like an archetype where only the most obvious compulsions are explored in the most stereotypical way (two lovers loving each other, pretty girl in the air, pretty girls dancing, pretty girl singing, pretty girl and fire.) Basically, pretty girls all round, sometimes for no apparent reason. Even Bret’s aerial performance goes pretty much unexplained: what does it stand for? Is it hinting at the hero’s bisexuality? Does it perhaps represent the looming threat of a badly dealt with Oedipe? Is it the ego flying through the air? Is it the hero himself? Is it the Id?
Most importantly, is that really what our subconscious is made of? Who knows. Mine is much weirder and much less pretty. But I guess that would have made for a very different kind of show.
Nocturne. Produced by The Black Cat Cabaret. London Wonderground, Jubilee Gardens, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX. From £19.00. Until 11 September on selected Fridays. http://www.londonwonderground.co.uk