Fancy Chance

Fancy Chance Says: “Fight The Power!”

Fancy Chance is in fighting mood in her latest Soho Theatre show. Image: Sin Bozkurt.
Fancy Chance is in fighting mood in her latest Soho Theatre show. Image: Sin Bozkurt.

The times, they are a-changing. A year on from the Brexit referendum and nearly 100 days since Donald Trump became President, the political landscape in both the US and the UK is unrecognisable from where it was just twelve months ago. Who better to reflect on this fresh hell than Fancy Chance?

The performer has never had it easy: her birth mother abandoned her in 1974 and, despite twice looking for her, Fancy Chance has never found the woman who left her in a bag outside a South Korean police station. She spent her childhood in the US before moving on again, this time to the UK where she has developed a legendary career in cabaret. When not hanging by her hair for the Double R Club and Café de Paris’ Seven Sins, she is widely renowned for her ability to fluidly move between the worlds of burlesque, drag and performance art.

Next week, she appears in her own show. Flights of Fancy is her very personal take on many issues recently thrown up on both sides of the Atlantic, not least race and immigration. We spoke to her about what she thought about where the world was going.

Last year I did a third version of my solo show Flights of Fancy at the Soho Theatre for a couple nights. It was two days before the Brexit vote and four months before the latest U.S. election.

As I’ve spent more time on this planet, I can safely say that I’m never surprised but can often be disappointed.  The outcome of the referendum in the UK to leave the EU and Trump being elected as the US president (along with the Republicans owning our asses) has left me disappointed but also hopeful because people have been shaken into action including myself.

At first, after both results came in, I was shell shocked, depressed and anxious.  The hubris of the powers that were was astounding.  Why the hell were “IN” stickers being passed out in the London borough of Hackney who had the highest percentage of “remain” votes?  Where the hell were they in all the bloody places hardly touched by immigrants but benefitting from EU initiatives?  Why did the US democratic party think that someone was a shoe-in just because they weren’t a pussy grabbing rich fuck who “wins bigly”?

Fancy Chance taking to the air at the Double R Club’s London Wonderground show.

After this cluster of suck right wing voting happened, the subjects and themes of my show took on a different urgency. I’ve been an immigrant twice: once practically under the circumstances of being a refugee, and the other because of marriage. I think because of this and also being a minority and a woman, it’s made me more aware of the politics swirling around us and has changed and shaped what I’ve ended up creating and participating with on stage.

A theme that keeps coming back to me is empathy and compassion. I collaborated with Nathan Evans (my director and collaborator for Flights Of Fancy) for his production of I Love You But We Only have 14 Minutes to Save the Earth. The idea was that a number of performers created a 14 minute act on how or what would save the earth. For my piece I thought, if people would just take a moment to consider the people around them, we wouldn’t be in this fear-mongered shit storm flowing to the right. The only power I have is to air out my complaints on stage but also, 14 Minutes really let me sink my teeth into also making arguments for solutions.

Who am I if I think people who voted for Brexit or Trump are complete xenophobic idiot racist assholes? My conversation with half of humanity stops there.  Also, I have to ask myself, what more can I do to affect change? I have to be tricky with my satire and but, at the same time, bold and unafraid of my truths and my past to make my complaints and urgings potent.

In Flights of Fancy I get to have a conversation with the audience about my personal history and present my opinions on beauty standards, casual racism, ethnic identity, sex work, immigration, social media, gentrification and finding love and family in this ever changing and at times alienating world. I hope it’s wrapped in a bow that moves people to think about the world and the humans around them and leaves them with a few giggles in their bellies and conversations to revisit.

Fight the power!
Be bold!
Be kind!

This is not easy.  None of this is easy in these times.

Flights Of Fancy will be at the Soho Theatre from 25-29 April. More information can be found on the venue website.

Review: Seven Sins, Cafe de Paris

Who among us has not sinned? The seven deadly sins we all know and practice were first listed by Pope Gregory The Great back in AD590 and it was he, the patron saint of musicians and singers, that decided upon the septet of lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. If you’re not sure what any of those mean, ask a musician or a singer.

In modern times, we see these sins differently. To paraphrase writer Ferdinand Mount, greed has been rebranded as retail therapy, anger is communicating your feelings, vanity is the neverending picture roll of selfies, gluttony is the religion of foodies and sloth and lust are now known as “Netflix and chill”. Hey, sinner, how you doin’?

Taking as its concept these ubiquitous vices, Seven Sins is the latest Friday night show at Café de Paris. It is dark, theatrical and thought-provoking – none of which should be taken for granted in an age when The Stage still thinks of cabaret as “light entertainment”.

Bettsie Bon Bon's take on"sloth" for Seven Sins, Cafe de Paris. Image: Beth Smith
Bettsie Bon Bon’s take on”sloth” for Seven Sins, Cafe de Paris. Image: Beth Smith


As Seven Sin’s writer, director, compere and singer, Reuben Kaye is the show’s pivotal figure and there isn’t a square inch of it that doesn’t have his particular imprint. Five years ago, the Café’s Friday night show was the stomping ground for Dusty Limits and now the baton has been passed to his fellow Australian, one who holds sway with a swagger all of his own; while the former revelled in his aloofness, Kaye takes to the audience like a heartbroken girl to white wine and boxsets.

Theatrical cabaret is a double-edged sword. The idea of a show with not only an underlying theme which connects and contextualises the acts and has some semblance of direction and a script is not novel in London, but it is increasingly rare. If done well, it can lift the spirits, transport us to another time and space and even justify eye-watering booze prices. When done badly, frankly we all wish we were elsewhere.

This is Kaye’s star vehicle but he’s happy to share his ride with a variety of fabulous folks who bring each sin to life. As the avatar of “gluttony”, sword swallower extraordinaire Snake Fervor expertly chows down on both a huge spoon and a similarly sized fork at the same time while up-and-coming circus star Beau Sargent as “envy” shows plenty of flesh and talent as he dazzles on the aerial hoop.

Burlesque is not short on queens but the UK can count Bettsie Bon Bon as one of the finest exponents around of the classic style. Aptly enough for a portrait of “sloth”, her routine starts at a luxuriously slow pace but soon zings into a zany strip which climaxes in an explosion of feathers. Likewise, Anna The Hulagan’s take on “pride” has a ponderous beginning before she brings on the crazy with the aid of two assistants wielding angle grinders.

Reuben Kaye leads a scintillating cast at Seven Sins, Cafe de Paris. Image: Beth Smith
Reuben Kaye leads a scintillating cast at Seven Sins, Cafe de Paris. Image: Beth Smith


One example of the theatrical chutzpah of this production is seen at the beginning of the second half. An altar with lit candles on small pedestals is solemnly approached by a young priest, dog collar and all. In a matter of moments, the candles and collar are removed, acrobat and Sins choreographer Sammy Dineen (for it is he) strips off the rest of his outfit and mounts the pedestals for a sublime display of hand balancing in the name of “lust”. Somewhere along the line, while still upside down, Dineen’s sandals are set on fire before he, um, “hotfoots” it off stage. What began as a trompe d’oeil ends as a triumph of stagecraft.

And that’s not even the most spectacular of the acts. In a contest more closely fought than a boxing match in a lift, the prize would have to go to Fancy Chance’s display of “wrath”. Hair-hanging has had something of a renaissance in recent years in the circus community and has proven to be both beautiful and hazardous. In the hands of someone as multi-talented and creative as the diminutive American, it transcends the eye-watering and becomes a thing of beauty. Her hair-hanging has already been seen at The Double R Club last year; for Seven Sins, she turns in a superbly-crafted portrait of physical poetry which mesmerises and astounds at every turn.

The spectacular Fancy Chance at Seven Sins, Cafe de Paris. Image: Verena Gremmer
The spectacular Fancy Chance at Seven Sins, Cafe de Paris. Image: Verena Gremmer

Last, and not least by a country mile, is Chrisalys and his excoriating exploration of the cardinal sin of avarice (or greed). One of the UK’s finest exponents of theatrical cabaret is no stranger to the Café de Paris – his “barbecued baby” act in Sins’ predecessor Cabaret des Distractions still burns brightly in the mind – but this may be his best creation yet.

With more twists and turns than the backstreets of Marrakesh, this is a routine for the ages. Appropriately enough masked up as his Mr Pig character, he bounds on stage in a black suit, with a glass of whiskey in one hand and personalised bank notes in place of a pocket square. Every inch the arch-capitalist, he sprays the notes around and sets furled umbrellas ablaze before swigging lighter fluid from a champagne bottle and breathing fire into the Café atmosphere.

In a brilliantly conceived manoeuvre, Chrisalys throws off his dark garb to reveal a white suit underneath. Now, art and economics graduates will likely be intellectualising that switcheroo while waiting for the barista to hurry up with that skinny latte but here’s one perspective: from a banker flaunting his wealth and ego, we are now presented with the same person dishing out dosh like there’s no tomorrow in the name of philanthropy. Gordon Gekko said that “greed is good”; here, Chrisalys’ “greed” is nothing short of an exhilarating tour de force.

It's all about the "greed" for Chrisalys at Seven Sins, Cafe de Paris. Image: Verena Gremmer
It’s all about the “greed” for Chrisalys at Seven Sins, Cafe de Paris. Image: Verena Gremmer


Seven Sins is far more than a loose collection of talented artists and a theme. There is evidence everywhere that the sum is greater than the parts and there is plenty of cast collaboration to enjoy. Dineen’s show choreography is inspired, making sure every act feels like a team effort with the central performer aided and abetted by one or more colleagues.

For his part, Kaye’s lips do double-time – when he’s not laying down a barrage of witty one-liners or verbally molesting the masses, he peps up the stage action with his live singing; most of the tracks were chosen by himself and arranged by musical director Andrea Biondo with contributions from vocalists Lili La Scala and Coco Malone, pianist Jaz Delorean and Des O’Connor on saxophone. Finally, the richly detailed costumes by Bettsie Bon Bon and Lia Parravinci of Fallen Feathers are visual treats in their own right.

So what does this all add up to? Quite a bit. Given all the qualities above, everything points to Sevens Sins being the finest regular cabaret show in London. Frankly, as long as it keeps up the quality, it deserves to have its own pedestal out in Piccadilly Circus. Moreover, it means that, under producer Tom Gravett’s aegis, Café de Paris can be spoken of in the same breath as French luminaries Moulin Rouge and Crazy Horse. If Brexit leads to British punters seeking home comforts over foreign fun, that’s all to the good: Seven Sins is proof enough that London is a skyscraper in the global cabaret landscape.

This Is Cabaret rating: ★★★★★

Seven Sins continues at Cafe de Paris on Fridays. Tickets are priced at £20-£75. Dining options available. Please check the official website for ticket information and availability.

Cover image: Beth Smith

Fancy Chance Goes Back To The Beginning In Her New Show

In a scene which thrives on variety, Fancy Chance has one of the most diverse repertoires of all. We’ve seen her as a drag king at Alternative Eurovision, stripping at the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival, hair-hanging at The Double R Club and The Raunch and telling about her earliest days as part of Nathan Evan’s ensemble show I Love You But We Only Have Fourteen Minutes To Save The Earth.

She has teamed up with Evans again for her new one-woman soirée Fancy Chance: Flights Of Fancy which will be at Soho Theatre on 21 and 22 June. Once again, she’ll be talking candidly about her childhood in Korea and America and her inexorable rise to being one of the most unpredictable stars of the London cabaret scene.

Before she tells the audience everything, we got our own exclusive insight into this much-admired performer and put to her some of our most burning questions.

Let’s get the most burning question out of the way first. What’s the inspiration behind your name?

It’s actually quite simple. I was asked to by Indigo Blue to be in BurlyQ: A Queer Cabaret burlesque troupe and had to choose a stage name. I liked the term “fancy pants” and the song Fancy by Bobby Gentry and decided do a play on words. Ironically it makes more sense in the UK but rhymes more with an American accent.


How does this show related to your part of I Love You But…? Will you use that as a starting point or are you taking a new approach?

I gained a lot confidence in my performing capabilities with that show. It really showed how well Nathan and I work together, so it was only natural that I have a stab at doing a solo show. Most of the material is actually new but drawing on themes and subjects I’ve used before and I Love You But…. has inspired certain parts.


What still appeals about cabaret? What in particular drove you to perform in this corner of the entertainment business in the first place? 

I’m still in this “business” partly because I don’t know what else I can do and there is a great sense of community and creativity all around.

I accidentally ended up in cabaret as a “profession”. I started out just doing weird dance and band projects as a hobby. When I did burlesque, I found out that my sense of humour translated well on stage.

In the early 2000s, neo-burlesque scene was still quite varied and had a playful experimental punk quality to it; it really gave me an education about stagecraft without the pressure of trying to satisfy the audiences’ expectations. Next thing I knew, I was getting booked and I was working harder to create interesting and fun pieces and was eventually able to support myself.


Fancy Chance hair-hanging as part of The Double R Club’s 2014 show at the London Wonderground.


You’ve covered more genres than most cabaret artists, not least drag, circus, burlesque and performance art. What gives you the impetus to explore new areas rather than, as some do, just mine one particular art form? 

I think all of them can overlap and I’ve just naturally ended up covering those different genres because it it was what was asked of me either by myself or a production.  As the years of experience have increased, I find that I can’t actually stick to a particular art form.


Do you ever worry about repeating yourself?

I worry about being good. I don’t care about repeating myself as long as what I’m doing is quality shit.


Through all your different acts, would you say there was an artistic or personal thread through them all?

Absolutely! I find that the only good material I’ve created has come from something that I’ve taken a personal interest in or draws from my experiences.


Do you have a preferred or typical creative processes when working on new acts or the latest show?

Full on freak out mode, wine and a hot glue gun.


You often work alone but you are currently appearing in as part of Empress Stah’s The Raunch. What persuaded you to join the show?

I’ve known and worked in the same circles as Stah for ages now and loved the concept of the show. I really didn’t need persuading.

Stah is the director but we developed the acts that I appear in together with the songs that had been chosen. It’s been amazing hair hanging so many times in a row. I really feel that part of my skill set is improving.


One of our favourite routines of yours sees you transform from a Kim Jong-il character to Prince. Where did you get the idea for that pairing?

I think I’ve only done the Kim Jong il to Prince once! I did it for Alternative Eurovision with the most hilarious set of backing dancers. I do believe I got cabaret royalty to dress in skimpy leotards, sunglasses and scarves. I had already been satirising Kim Jong Il for ages and had been doing lots of appearances as Prince and thought pairing them together for Eurovision was perfect. North Korea was like Israel.


Now that both men have died, have you retired it?

Only when I DIE.


Fancy Chance can be seen in her one-woman show Fancy Chance: Flights Of Fancy at Soho Theatre on 21 and 22 June.

Empress Stah: “I Am Terrified Of Spiders And Seaweed”

Very few performers have pushed the boundaries of cabaret like Empress Stah (above, centre). She started out strutting her stuff as a drag queen in Sydney clubs and has progressed to incorporating burlesque and circus into her increasingly inventive acts which have been seen in spaces as diverse as Soho Theatre and Torture Garden.

Her grounded personality belies her lofty ambitions: ultimately, she wants to create a performance in outer space. Audiences have seen her syringe her own blood to pour in a cocktail, pull glitterballs from her vagina and creating the world’s first laser buttplug.

For her latest trick, she has produced a new show for the London Wonderground’s upcoming season. The Raunch is a cowboy-themed affair featuring Stah alongside some of cabaret’s superstars like drag king-cum-aerialist Fancy Chance, cyr wheel specialist Jo Moss and Berlin-based sword swallower Jewels Good. Ahead of its launch on 5 May, we had a natter about what people could expect.

Where did the original concept for The Raunch come from? Was it something you have been mulling for a while or did it come through a lightbulb moment?

The Raunch was initially conceived as a show for the Ibiza Rocks Bar in Ibiza. I headlined Ibiza Rocks House at Pacha during the 2014 season and, as this was drawing to a close, I was chatting with Dawn Hindle and she asked me if I would be interested in creating a cabaret show for them, for the following year. It never came to pass, but the venue in question is on the west coast of Ibiza, so as I was considering the show it became apparent that it could have a western flavour to it, and when I asked my husband Graham what we should call it, he said “The Raunch”.We pitched the show to Underbelly and they loved it, and so it has been developed now specifically for the Spiegeltent at The London Wonderground.


You sound excited about this show. Why’s that?

I have self-produced cabaret shows of this scale in the past, including Moonshine, The Very Best of Empress Stah & Ice Palace of Malice, however this one is completely different as everyone is creating new material and developing new skills, whilst the Underbelly Production team keep things moving in the background. It’s the biggest budget I’ve worked with but it’s still never enough!

Fear isn’t an emotion we would readily attribute to you considering how you push yourself both physically and when dreaming up new routines but is there anything that scares you?

I am terrified of spiders and seaweed; this might partially explain why I am so interested to go into space, because there is nothing there. Also, I would never go diving in the sea for art or anything else.

I don’t worry about things in general because I have a firm belief that everything will be alright on the night, and it usually is. Sometimes I might wake up a 5am and lay there worrying about the show I am creating, the new skills I am learning, getting it ready on time, my team getting their elements ready on time, my cast learning all their new skills on time, boring anxiety stuff like that.

This morning I woke up from a dream just as I was about to be executed via a lethal injection so maybe there is some underlying fear! I strive to do the best I can, and some people will love it and others will hate it, you can’t please everyone, but I hope that The Raunch is a show that people will love and come back to see with with their friends, and that the reviewers don’t say mean things about it, or me. (No promises! – FM)


You’re one of cabaret’s innovators who is constantly crossing art forms from drag to burlesque to circus. What gives you the impetus to create new works rather than, as some do, just live off old routines? Do you ever worry about repeating yourself?

I really love the creative challenge of making a new show, thinking through the ideas, imagining new props and costumes and finding the music to develop a story within it, especially the eureka moment when it all comes together and you realise what the twist is, what the punchline will be. This process is very exciting for me.

I have been performing cabaret and circus acts for 20 years now and whilst I continue to create new routines, I have certainly had some favourites that have been performed worldwide for over a decade. It is good to be able to perform shows that are run in over time, you find new moments in them with different audiences, and you get to hone the act. Evolution is key though, and with that in mind I archived my entire body of work at the beginning of this year, it is important to keep things fresh and interesting, for yourself and for your public.


Who are your creative influences? How have they changed over time?

I always find this question difficult to answer, because I am not sure what they are. I grew up in a small town in Australia in the 1980s with only Smash Hits Magazine and the Top 40 for cultural influences.

Mostly the tricks and stunts and props I have conceived over the years have been inspired from my wayward youth, real life stripping, partying and dressing up. I place the utmost importance on originality, and will reject something that has already been done, rather than look for inspiration from the work of others.

I don’t scour the internet for ideas, I think and I write and I think about it some more, I might google a philosophical notion, or fact check a thought or search for music online, but I tend to be very insular. That said, I grew up loving Madonna and my mission to make a performance in Outer Space has really given me a strong thread for one whole strand of my work.


As someone who has been there and bought the T-shirt, what message would you have for new variety artists? 

I always strongly emphasise the importance of creating unique stage characters and developing original content for your acts. Equally important is to have high production values, by this I mean you should invest in your costumes and props and make sure you clean them and repair them, remember the old adage, you have to spend money to make money. You need to be quality to get the best gigs, and always stick to your price. Leave your ego at home, no body likes a dressing room diva, and be friendly and respectful to everyone at your shows from the director to the lighting person to the glass collector. Feast or famine is the name of the game, so expect to have cash flow dramas, and learn how to juggle interest free credit card ransfers. The cabaret beast is not an easy ride, but it sure beats working for the man.


What plans do you have for The Raunch? Will it be going up to the Fringe?

The plan is for the show to tour worldwide, hopefully for a couple years. We open with a 6 week run at the London Wonderground then go north for a week to perform near Leeds as part of the new Yorkshire Festival, who originally commissioned the show (thank you Roz Coleman!).  We have not confirmed a plan to go to Edinburgh this year, but it is a strong possibility seeing as Underbelly are producing The Raunch. I think they’re waiting to see if it’s going to be as good as I keep telling them it is before they commit! Then down under for the Perth and Adelaide Fringe festivals and a run at the Sydney Opera House would put the icing on the cake.

The Raunch opens its saloon doors on 5 May 2016. Tickets are from £11 and include a complimentary brochure. More information can be found on the London Wonderground website.

Video: Fancy Chance Takes To The Air At The Double R Club

When The Double R Club goes to the London Wonderground, something quite special happens. The Lynchian-themed soiree is renowned for its particularly crepuscular take on cabaret. Everywhere, the commonplace is made creepy and the creepy commonplace. Sometimes, though, the acts begin rather macabre and then become even darker.

Away from their usual East London home, their show within the Paradiso Spiegeltent expands every which way. The greater height means that they can incorporate aerialists into the cast while the length and width of the stage allows for more ambitious set pieces. Moreover, the show’s artistic vision deepens and what emerges from the imagination of the performers and co-producers Benjamin Louche and Rose Thorne is a wonder and privilege to behold.

Picture this: an unnamed suited figure drags onto the stage a white body bag before walking off. A few tense moments later, the unbilled Fancy Chance emerges from the bag, a nude figure connected to the Spiegeltent roof by a single rope attached only to her dark locks. She is gently hoisted upwards, whereupon she flies and cavorts above the audience in a display of the spectacular and hazardous practice of hair-hanging.

This is what it looked like.

The Double R Club returns for its sixth anniversary bash on 17 September.

Image and video: Mr Von Hugo


Review: Apple Cart Festival: Cabaret Tent

Do cabaret and wellies go together? The second edition of The Apple Cart festival at Victoria Park held eight unflinching hours of non-stop mayhem in its cabaret tent, under non-stop rain. It was a muddy affair. Literally as well.

Rising popular demand for variety is always a pleasant prospect, but there’s a line where expansion bleeds into reckless bandwagon-jumping. And it’s not a blurry one, either: it’s a solid four-foot-tall metal barricade of a line separating the stage from the public. Whatever expectations you could hold about cabaret intimacy and audience participation are promptly shattered when you’re shivering in a draughty square tent open on three sides, peeking over a fence while backing tracks blast out of rock-gig-sized amps. They did have tables, at least.

Kiki Kaboom - The Apple Cart Festival
Award-winning burlesque dancer Kiki Kaboom performed two acts at The Apple Cart festival’s cabaret tent

It’s no surprise that the most compelling acts were also the ones who crossed the barricade to confront the crowd. Fancy Chance straddled a spectator to steal a kiss during her notorious drag king Prince tribute. Kiki Kaboom, meanwhile, went beyond talking the talk in her excellent Chavarella burlesque number, confiscating a camera phone from a persistent shutterbug at a front table. Barricade or not, you don’t mess with a broad who flings chewing gum at the public.

Lip-synching made up nearly half of the 28-act bill. Drag troupe The LipSinkers performed twice, with individual members Ryan Styles and John Sizzle contributing additional routines of their own. Most of the numbers consisted of obvious choreographies illustrating the lyrics of hits like Can’t Take My Eyes Off You with the same hammy smiles from beginning to end. Watching inventive allegories like drag queen A Man to Pet letting a heart-shaped helium balloon fly at the end of Love Is in the Air has all the entertainment value of high school plays, except those don’t cost £40 a ticket.

Fabulous Russella - The Apple Cart Festival
The Fabulous Russella was one of many drag queens performing at The Apple Cart Festival

Another lip-synching drag queen, The Fabulous Russella, had literally more substance to offer, making a pancake onstage in a charmingly shambolic slapstick skit to the soundtrack of Christina Aguilera’s Ain’t No Other Man. However, the number lost most of its appeal in the arid ambience of the venue, as did Dickie Beau’s accomplished mime to a Kenneth Williams interview recording, which struggled to compete with the outside noise.

The cavalier attitude and beat-perfect comedy of politically incorrect duo Bourgeois and Maurice, by contrast, is weatherproof and venue-proof. Sardonic cuts like Tax Me and I Can’t Live in London poke at sensibilities across the board, attacking everything from ecological discourse to the financial sector, with lively tunes on keyboard and acoustic guitar to boot. Drag queens Holstar and Lavinia Co-Op (of influential comedy troupe Bloolips) had more cabaret in store – the former with a perfunctory run through songs like I Need a Hero and Somebody to Love, the latter with feeble protest piece I’d Like to Do the Mambo But the Suit Says No.

Bourgeois and Maurice - The Apple Cart Festival
Bourgeois and Maurice: lively tunes, cavalier attitude and beat-perfect comedy

Other featured regulars of London’s variety scene included drag comic Myra Dubois, Piff the Magic Dragon (also performing at The Apple Cart magic tent) and Irish hand-dancers Up and Over It. Jazz vixen Holly Penfield headlined the evening with her usual ferocity – i.e., pouncing on audience members irrespective of gender, age or press affiliation. She did see my badge before throwing me on the table and satisfying her base instincts. She just didn’t give a damn about it.

Halfway through this bleak afternoon, it seemed like nothing else could go amiss. The illusion was promptly dispelled as artists that had little or nothing of cabaret in them took to the stage. The noisy live PA set performed by electro MC Feral Is Kinky makes more sense in a warehouse party than in a variety show, while I Am Fya’s repetitive synth R ’n’ B would sound tedious in any bill.

It was not all bad: with sombre grooves and nonchalant vocals a la Natalie Merchant, Willis’s acoustic blues-folk ballads are stirring and poignant enough to merit a gig of her own. Canadian guitarist Mae Martin, on the other hand, offered nothing beyond the run-of-the-mill confessional jokes that flood Edinburgh pubs in August, alternating between minute-long songs and sprawling pointless banter. I can’t see many explanations for the inclusion of these acts here other than overbooking in the comedy and music tents.

Cabaret is typically, historically and even etymologically an indoors genre, and for a reason. Whether your motivation to go to a variety show is controversial entertainment on the fringes of acceptability or nostalgic ideals of decadence, you’ll find the open air – at the mercy of the elements, non-existent sound isolation and overpriced lager in plastic cups – to be an effective mood killer. Even if just for the sake of innovation, though, there might be some outdoors alternative to supper clubs, small theatres and spiegeltents that could deliver a pleasant experience. The cabaret tent at The Apple Cart festival is just not it.

The Apple Cart Festival: Cabaret Tent. Produced by Rude Grrl. Victoria Park, London E3. 3 June, 13:00-21:00. £40 (free for children under 12 accompanied by adults).


Photo credits: Gui O’Connor, exclusively for This Is Cabaret

Review: Gypsy Hotel

Billed as “bourbon-soaked snake-charmin’ rock ’n’ roll cabaret”, Gypsy Hotel does what it says on the tin. This hybrid of rock gig and variety show is a loud carnival of frenzied fun, featuring enough fiendish burlesque, lurid musical comedy and sinful sounds to corrupt the youth of a country or two.

The revue is run by Paul-Ronney Angel, frontman of riotous multi-ethnic blues rock ensemble The Urban Voodoo Machine. Angel himself often performs in it, playing original songs as well as selections from the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Tom Waits, in impromptu jams with guests or parallel projects like the Dalston Devil Trio, a banjo, tuba and steel guitar outfit.

Trans-Siberian March Band: infectious Balkan grooves teeming with relentless energy

Two regular acts are typical of the show’s mix of genres. Rockabilly quartet The Long Insiders play hip-swaying originals to dance and jive to, and are a hit with the many rock fans in 1950s attire that regularly attend Gypsy Hotel. Specialising in more exotic fare, the twelve-strong Trans-Siberian March Band unleashes a non-stop whirlwind of Eastern European brass tunes that is impossible to stand still to, from lands as diverse as Hungary, Poland, Russia and Turkey. The show often features many other bands favouring a gypsy or Balkan vibe, like the Hackney folk punks of Walking Wounded or gypsy sextet Buffo’s Wake, with further blues-rock by Little Victor, Screaming Tupelo and Brandy Row and the Truebadours, among others.

Burlesque at the Hotel doesn’t tend to include a lot of cheesecake. Fire-eating beauties like Sophia Landi and Billie Rae are frequent, as are sideshow performers such as Vivid Angel and Empress Stah. Fancy Chance finds an eager audience for her geekier routines, like a Star Trek parody that reveals Lieutenant Uhura’s outstanding tassel-twirling abilities. Funny and provocative, the chameleonic bump-and-grinder is an overdose of shameless antics and defiant performance.

Fancy Chance makes the fantasies of countless geeks come true as a tassel-twirling Lieutenant Uhura

Comic chanteuse Tricity Vogue rounds up the May date with her trademark ukulele-and-kazoo covers ranging from Florence Desmond’s wartime double-entendre serenade The Deepest Shelter in Town to rock standards like Should I Stay or Should I Go? and Video Killed the Radio Star, sure hits with a crowd like this. Other musical comedy mavens who have graced the eclectic stage include satirical crooner Mister Meredith and lounge despot Frank Sanazi.

The relaxed atmosphere of Gypsy Hotel makes it a prime spot for artists trying out new acts. One such debut is vaudevillian comedy troupe Dalston Fisting Club, comprising burlesquers Suri Sumatra and Lady Ane Angel, as well as Amanda Rogers (producer of monthly Brixton party night Stranger Than Paradise). The trio uses dance, shadowplay and plenty of banter in an educational fist-fuck workshop simulation, all delivered with the exaggerated cheer of a workout video. The single joke wears off quickly, leaving the number predictable and tepid, but you can’t put a price on the sight of a live dog covered in chocolate.

A proper live music pub, The Lexington has few seats, so arrive early to get a hold of those. Most patrons don’t bother, though: Gypsy Hotel is a show to jump, stomp, shake and grind, courtesy not only of most of the live acts, but also of DJ Scratchy, who plays “the rock and the roll of the world” between performances and in the complimentary afterparty running from midnight to 4 AM. This is variety with an attitude and plenty of fuel to burn.

Gypsy Hotel. Produced by Paul-Ronney Angel. The Lexington, London N1 9JB. Third Saturday of every month, 21:00. £9.99.


gypsyhotelvolume1-sleeveLike what you hear? Check out Gypsy Hotel Vol. 1, a compilation of live and studio cuts by Hotel regulars including Trans-Siberian March Band, Urban Voodoo Machine, Jim Jones Revue and others. Available as CD and download from


Photo credits: Sin Bozkurt