Lili La Scala

Review: Seven Sins, Cafe de Paris

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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

Fings From The Fringe

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Well, who doesn’t love an alliterative title? And titles, when it comes to Edinburgh Fringe, can make or break you. Likewise your publicity image. Does it draw people in? What kind of people? And does it accurately represent what you do? Some of the biggest disappointments aren’t because a show is bad, but because it’s not what it promised.

The favourite title I’ve spotted so far this year is the risqué punning of ‘Fingering A Minor On The Piano’, from Adam Kay. That said, I wasn’t completely sure whether this was simply for shock value, or indicated a cleverer show. Until I saw Kay in his other Fringe offering, ‘The Remains of Tom Lehrer’The classic geeky wit and wordplay of Lehrer’s comic songs are equally matched by Kay’s own lyrical contributions and droopy-browed delivery.

Musical numbers are interspersed with biographical detail from Lehrer’s life and a few choice props are flung about. Like the stuffed pigeon sitting sedately atop the glossy black piano, Kay barely moves from his stool; he has no need because it’s the material – including previously unreleased compositions – that’s the star of this show, within Kay’s expertly constructed frame and presentation. The timbre of Kay’s voice may be a little thin when not ripping into the gleeful madness of growls and squeaks that compliments the smooth sociopathic straightness of his speaking voice so well but, when the verbal material is as rich this, that is a negligible note. He teases us with more variations of ‘The Elements’ than I knew existed, and favourites like ‘The Masochism Tango’ are given a 21st Century twist, proving Kay’s own skills as much as his muse’s.

I’m sold on ‘Fingering A Minor’. The best advert for a show is a taste of what that show experience will be like. And the currency of Word-Of-Mouth is, perhaps, worth more at Edinburgh Fringe than anywhere else.

This is one of the themes that arises in the first of Ben Walters‘ Cabaret Chinwag events, now a firm favourite in my Fringe fixtures. Each week he hosts a free (yes, FREE) panel show discussion with some of the most interesting performers from the Ed Fringe cabaret circuit. It’s a brilliant place to familiarise yourself with who’s doing what, and what shows are hot. And it’s been sponsored by Pickering’s Gin, so yes, there are freebies.

IMG_0107Today, guests are Lili La Scala, George and Liv of Bourgeois & Maurice, and Lisa and Kim from the Australian sensation Hot Brown Honey that’s hitting the UK for the first time under the production umbrella of Briefs, while presenting something wholly original. As well as info about their shows and careers, the guests are all prompted to give a little lo-fi taste of their work. ‘If You Don’t Know What To Do With Your Life‘, from Bourgeois & Maurice’s first album becomes a poetry duet; Kim (a.k.a. Busty Beats) from the Hot Brown Honey team raps us their welcome to the hive; Lili La Scala melts the stresses of the Fringe away with her exquisite voice, singing unaccompanied the traditional Scottish ‘Mingulay Boat Song from her show Siren.

There’s mingling time afterwards, to sample more of the Pickering’s Gin offerings if you so desire. Another thread of the panel chat today though, is the function and dangers of alcohol as a prominent presence in the cabaret culture. Sober thoughts on a valuable resource. Just careful not to overdo it, for everyone’s sake.

Fingering A Minor on the Piano. By Adam Kay. Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance, EH8 9TJ. Until 29 August, 18:40

The Remains Of Tom Lehrer. By Adam Kay. Gilded Balloon Teviot, Teviot Row House, EH8 9AJ. Until 29 August, 15:45

Cabaret Chinwag. Presented by Ben Walters. Fringe Central, Infirmary Street, EH1 1LZ. 11, 18, 24 August, 14:30

Another F*cking Variety Show. Presented by Lili La Scala. Pleasance Dome, Potterow, EH8 9AL. Until 28 August, 23:00

How to Save the World Without Really Trying. By Bourgeois & Maurice. Underbelly, 66 Cowgate, EH1 1JX. Until 28 August, 21:25

Hot Brown Honey. Presented by Briefs Factory. Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU. Until 28 August, 20:20

Lili La Scala: “You Never Have It Nailed”

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Henley Festival may well be the poshest of its kind around. While wellies, jeans and a silly hat are de rigeur at Glastonbury, those attending the event in Berkshire will be asked to observe a more upmarket dress code: men are advised to wear black tie while ladies should dig out their best frock and, as the website joyfully declares, “You can never be overdressed at Henley!” No pressure, girls.

This year’s proceedings feature a diverse bill encompassing music, comedy and cabaret. Elton John will be kicking things off with his band but, for us, the highlights will be elsewhere. The brilliant Dillie Keane of Fascinating Aida will be flying solo, the genre-bending ventriloquist Nina Conti will be putting words into people’s mouths and perennial favourites Frisky & Mannish are going to be mashing up more tunes. Every night there will be Digital Cabaret, a high energy, fast-moving show created specially for Henley Festival with performances incorporating the latest digital technologies from Feeding the Fish, Jenna Lee, Addictive TV and Hoops in Motion.

A treat who will fit right in will be Lili La Scala. We’ve seen the classy songbird in many refined surroundings around the capital, not least the Rosewood Hotel’s Scarfe’s Bar and Cafe Royal, as well as starring in her own show Siren at the London Wonderground. We spoke to her about her upcoming festival appearance.

There are probably going to be some people at Henley Festival who have never seen you before. How would you describe yourself to them?

At this very second? A bit tired and a little hungry.

This is the hardest question in the world. Whenever I have to write bios for myself it goes against every bit of Englishness within! My innate self deprecation says things like “Well, I sing a bit and have nice frocks”. My good pal, Michael Roulston gave me a bit of advice which was “think like an American” when it comes to exploiting yourself textually!


Go on, give it a shot.

Grudgingly, I would say that I’m 100% high octane vintage glamour generally bedecked in sequins and dripping in jewels backed up by a classically trained voice, honed at one of London’s finest musical academies. I’m also a connoisseur of vintage songs, my particular area of expertise being the songs of Noel Coward, Ivor Novello and the interwar period.


That sounds about right. You often perform in the same line-up as your husband Sam Wills (aka The Boy With Tape On His Face) with whom you have a young child. How do you make sure that you all have a balanced family life?

Balance schmalance. You just have to keep juggling and hope you don’t drop balls. You will, but that is just part of life. I’m learning, as time goes on, that it is impossible to balance everything.

You can only focus your attentions on one area. I try to give each area a bit of attention in turn. So, I work really hard on my career for a bit, then I work on home stuff, then I work on Sam and I.

It’s like plate spinning, you pop up the plates and then you come back and give each a bit of attention. Sam is often away for extended periods, so at that time, my priority has to be our son, so gigs have to fit in around him. Then Sam comes back and I can stack my diary.


And does it get easier over time?

You never have it nailed. You think you do and then something will happen and suddenly you feel as though you are back at square one. We are also very lucky that my parents are incredibly supportive and will look after the little chap when times get super busy.


You’re known for your powerful voice. How did it get to where it is now? 

Am I? That’s lovely. It’s nice to be known for something. I started singing when I was six, my primary school music teacher noticed I could hold a tune. I went through the Junior Dept of Guildhall School of Music & Drama. I trained at the Birmingham Conservatoire & The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I had a raft of brilliant teachers including Mollie Petrie, Sarah Pring and Paul Farringdon.

After college, I started street performing full time (previously it had been a hobby). Through that and swing dancing I wandered into burlesque; I enjoyed mixing burlesque with opera. I wanted to create an hour-long show so that I could tour to Australia and NZ with my husband so I created War Notes, which was a combination of songs from World War 2 and letters from servicemen killed in current conflict. That was a great little show but I think I created it as too immature a performer. I should probably go back and revisit it as the performer I am now.


What do you have planned for your late-night show on the Saturday of this year’s Henley Festival?

It will be loosely based on the Songs to Make You Smile show, so very vintage. I love to sing songs that people haven’t heard for a while, so there will be songs like What Do You Buy a Nudist for his Birthday? which is a Gracie Fields song from the 30s and Deepest Shelter in Town. It is midnight, so there will be a naughty edge to it. Lots of lovely retro innuendo. It’s cheap but it makes me laugh.


There’s a feast of talent at this year’s Henley Festival, not least Sir Elton John. Who are you planning to see while you’re there?

I tend to use festivals like this to catch up with people I love. It will be awesome to see Frisky & Mannish, Sam Simmons and Jonny Awsum. I desperately want to see Dillie Keane’s show, she’s a total inspiration.


Finally, what advice would you give for any classically trained artists looking to step across into cabaret?

Sing what you love. Words are more important than line. And wait until I’ve retired. Please?


Henley Festival runs from 6-10 July 2016. Tickets and more information about Lili La Scala’s show and all others during the festival can be found on the official website.

Behind The Scenes At The 2016 All Nude Cabaret Charity Calendar

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This Sunday sees the launch of the 2016 All Nude Cabaret Calendar at Fontaine’s. As a taster of what to expect, photographer Sin Bozkurt has shared some priceless and revealing behind-the-scenes shots he took.

You probably know at least one person who has survived, died of or is suffering from cancer. These days, that, unfortunately, does not make you special. What could make you special is if you decided to do something about this situation, put your time and money where your heart is and take a stand against an amoral killer that doesn’t care where you live, how you take your coffee, who you know, how old you are or how well loved you are.

For the last three years, a fundraising campaign spearheaded by Rose Thorne has put together an annual calendar featuring many of London’s finest cabaret folk. Vaudevillians of all hues have stripped naked before Sin Bozkurt’s lens and helped to compile the All Nude Cabaret Charity Calendar. All proceeds from sales of the calendar are split between Cancer Research and Macmillan Cancer Nurses.

This year’s effort features some of the finest burlesque, musical, drag and sideshow performers out there: Vicky Butterfly, David Hoyle, Kitty Bang Bang, Chi Chi Revolver, Ivy Paige, Laurence Owen, Myra DuBois, Lili La Scala, Urban Voodoo Machine, Nathan Evans, Snake Fervor and Flabbergast Theatre.

Check out their cheeky behind-the-scenes photos below and buy a calendar to see what the final shots look like. Even better, turn up to Fontaine’s on Sunday to buy a copy and get it signed by some of its stars.

All photos: Sin Bozkurt. Please do not reproduce without permission.

The All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016 launches this Sunday. Photos by Sin Bozkurt©
The All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016 launches this Sunday. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Kitty Bang Bang for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Kitty Bang Bang for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Laurence Owen for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Laurence Owen for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Myra DuBois for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Myra DuBois for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Ivy Paige for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Ivy Paige for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Urban Voodoo Machine for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Urban Voodoo Machine for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Nathan Evans for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Nathan Evans for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Vicky Butterfly for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Vicky Butterfly for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
David Hoyle for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
David Hoyle for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Chi Chi Revolver for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Chi Chi Revolver for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Lili La Scala for the Nathan Evans for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Lili La Scala for the Nathan Evans for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Snake Fervour for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Snake Fervour for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Chi Chi Revolver for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Chi Chi Revolver for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Snake Fervor for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Snake Fervor for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Laurence Owen for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Laurence Owen for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Vicky Butterfly for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Vicky Butterfly for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Lili La Scala for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Lili La Scala for the for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Flabbergast Theatre for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
Flabbergast Theatre for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
David Hoyle for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©
David Hoyle for the All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©

The All Nude Cabaret Calendar 2016 launches this Sunday. Photo by Sin Bozkurt©

Preview: The Big Burlesque Event

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Next month, The Big Burlesque Event, one of the biggest conventions of its kind in the UK, is taking place in East London.

From the 24-26 September, many of the biggest stars from the UK burlesque industry will be coming together at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club for the inaugural outing of The Big Burlesque Event. Producers Agent Burlieque have worked with hundreds of performers from the Folly Mixtures to Marnie Scarlet and are looking to make this into an annual happening in the capital with a second event held near Liverpool.

The inspiration for this gathering has come from a network of British burlesquers who use social media to share their knowledge and support each other. Facebook groups like Burlesque Big Sister/Big Brother set up by Diva Hollywood have allowed an online community to coalesce around common interests.

The Big Burlesque Event will build on this by bringing together burlesque and cabaret performers, photographers, musicians, corsetieres, models and others from the sphere of cabaret, in a supportive and collaborative environment.

Talulah Blue
Talulah Blue, who will be putting on a burlesque fashion show at the Event.

Those looking to pick up some new tips can attend one of the workshops on the art of the bump and grind, costuming, and achieving the perfect poise, posture and pose, among others. These sessions are designed to encourage new performers as well as support established acts.

The lack of seminars within burlesque festivals has been addressed here.  Turn up and hear about “The History of Burlesque”, “Gypsy Rose Lee”, “Embellishment and the Art of Costuming” and “What Promoters Really Want” before enjoying “An Epic Talk With Jo King”, the founder of the London Academy of Burlesque .

As well as workshops and seminars, The Big Burlesque Event is holding a “Newcomers Showcase”, with the UK’s first non-competitive event. This supportive atmosphere encourages new performers to help one another, plus receive valuable feedback from emcee Reuben Kaye, Jo King, Agent Burlieque founder Sapphire Rox and compere Kiki De Ville. Cabaret hostess Lili La Scala, will be hosting the evening, which will finish with showcases of musicians and bands from the burlesque industry.

There will also be performances from industry favourites. On Friday night, Reuben Kaye will host a soirée featuring performances from Lolo Brow, Khandie Khisses, Diva Hollywood, Dave The Bear, Phil Ingud, Vivacity Bliss, Lily SnatchDragon, Peggy De Lune and Katrina Darling with more guests to be confirmed.

Other activities include The Big Burlesque Singalong hosted by Em Brulée and a burlesque fashion show produced by costumiers Talulah Blue and Daisy Cutter.

Please note that The Big Burlesque Event will have only three hundred tickets available. For more information on the event check out their website.

Review: The Black Cat Cabaret’s Nocturne, London Wonderground

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This Is Cabaret Rating: ★★★☆☆

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.

Nocturne Is “The Most Base And Hedonistic Thing I’ve Seen”

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The Black Cat Cabaret returns to the Spiegeltent with Nocturne, a brand new show featuring more than a few new faces.

When not entertaining the denizens of the Cafe Royal, The Black Cat is known for its annual prowls to the London Wonderground’s Spiegeltent. This time around, their latest project Nocturne digs deep into the 21st zeitgeist with the help of Freudian dream archetypes, Mozart’s The Magic Flute and the operatic skills of frontwoman Lili La Scala. According to the trailer, we can expect a thrilling blend of music, aerial stunts, circus and sideshow.

Director Simon Evans has previously seen action behind the scenes of Secret Cinema and Donmar Warehouse and has been a magical consultant for the National Theatre. We spoke to him about his latest production.

Nocturne seems to be very different from your previous projects. What drew you to this particular project?

I agree! The first thing is that it’s a far cry from my previous productions for Secret Cinema or the National. I have a paralysing phobia of boredom, so am always looking for something new and exciting to explore alongside my more traditional work.

When David Harris (the founder of Black Cat) spoke to me about Nocturne, it seemed too thrilling an opportunity to turn down. I can confirm that neither the process, nor the product, has a shadow of boredom about out it. It’s the most base and hedonistic thing I’ve seen in a good while.

Black Cat Cabaret is famous for the programme they put together and this year we’ve pulled out all the stops. If you can think of the myriad other circus shows that have been around in recent years, we’ve taken all their headline acts and built Nocturne around the likes of Lili La Scala, Michael Roulston, Nathan and Isis, Katrina Lilwall, Cabaret Rouge, Bret Pfister and Abi Collins. It’s a devastatingly impressive line-up. The chance to work with them, see how they build an act, then see them perform it to open-mouthed audiences is draw enough.

London is seeing more and more themed or narrative-driven shows like Cabaret Roulette, Cabaret Des Distractions, Baby Lame: Don’t Call It A Comeback and The Double R Club. What makes Nocturne distinctive as a cabaret or theatrical experience?

You mean in addition to it being the finest example? I joke, but I was afraid, initially, that I might come to rehearsals with my traditional theatrical background and struggling to convince these world famous performers to explore things in different ways. These guys are at the top of their game – would they listen to me as I tried to impose narrative on their established acts?

I talked to them about the idea of a 21st Century Man, beaten down and repressed by the cavalcade of bustle and noise around him; numb and exhausted. He can barely keep his eyes open on the train home. He gives into sleep and enters the Nocturne, a place in the spirit of Carrolls’ Wonderland or Lovecraft’s Dreamlands where he can explore his own subconscious. Everyone got behind the idea for the show at once, and set about building something new. It’s all original material.

That’s our distinctive element: our line-up. We’ve brought together a catalogue of performers who wouldn’t usually be accommodated in this kind of narrative of theme driven work, and managed to find ways to adapt their acts (or build whole new things) to fit in with the over-arching structure. I’d like to take the credit, but I just provide the context. I make it make sense, they make it mind-blowing.

What would you say were your trademark motifs as a director? Will we see those in Nocturne?

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of creating a world and inviting an audience in. If the work on stage is too close to the audience’s own experience of life (sometimes as simply as being too naturalistic) it can allow them to enjoy the world passively. We never want that. We want them actively engaged.

So The Silence of the Sea (for the Donmar) created its environment through sound design, Thom Pain (at the Print Room) felt like an intrusion onto another show, and Almost, Maine (at the Park) surrounded them with snow, Northern Lights and pine trees. The worlds we create for Secret Cinema speak for themselves. We want them on the edge of their seats, leaning into the work.

Nocturne follows in that motif. We’re presenting a dream world and inviting the audience to come with us. We’ve all heard other people, and ourselves, throwing our truisms about our dreams like “It was you but it wasn’t you”, “We were at home but it wasn’t home” and “I was doing this and suddenly you were there too”.

There’s a Greek work, anagnorisis, which means recognition (in drama). We want the audience to recognise the world their in but also recognise that, with that, comes thrill. The world becomes narrative, but unpredictable (like a dream): acts interrupt each other spontaneously and thrillingly, rather than waiting for their place in line, offering a strange mix of thrill and comedy.

When those acts appear, we’ve tried to model them on Freudian and Jungian archetypes. I won’t go too far into it hear as there are some great surprises, but all the darker fragments of our Man’s subconscious are made flesh. Whatever he can dream, he can get.

They’ve not let me do that at the Donmar yet.

Who would you say that Nocturne was aiming for in terms of audience?

Well we’ve had two previews already and I’ve been amazed at the variety of audience we’ve had coming into the tent (all of whom have loved it). I’d want to point out that it’s a late night show (9.30pm) and that it’s not for children. Aside from that, I’d hope we’ve got something in there for everyone.

If you were, hypothetically, to look any of Nocturne‘s performers up online and imagine where they might fit in the darker corners of a man’s subconscious, you might be able to infer what sort of show we might be putting together and what the ideal audience might be.

There are a number of heavyweight cabaret musicians like Michael Roulston and Lili La Scala on board. How much influence did you have on that side of things?

I would love to say that I’d brought these stalwarts with me, but David Harris, the founder and producer of Black Cat, was the key decision maker in that regard. He knows this world inside out and back to front and knew, from our first meeting, who he wanted to get involved. Even me.

That said, I don’t think either of us assumed we’d be able to get all of his top choices together. There’s a lot of this kind of work around at the moment, a lot of shows vying for performers of this quality; for David to have got them all together, under one tent, is a remarkable achievement!

Lording over all of this is Lili la Scala, the queen of the Nocturne. We’ve based her on the ancient Greek muse Calliope. In mythology, she presided over eloquence and epic poetry. She was Homer’s muse when he wrote Odysseus’ journey home in the Odyssey, and now she presides over our MAN as he makes his own journey home: spurring him on and comforting him in equal measure.

Calliope also means “beautiful voiced”, which couldn’t be a better description for Lili. She and Michael are a phenomenal pairing.

Are there any plans to take Nocturne on tour?

Not yet. It’s now or never.


Black Cat Cabaret’s Nocturne officially opens at The London Wonderground’s Spiegeltent on 19 June and continues there for a number of selected dates until 11 September. See the official London Wonderground website for the latest details on tickets and timings.

The Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival Is Back!

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The Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival 2015 opens its doors next Thursday for four packed days of shows, workshops and more. We look into what this shining jewel of the UK burlesque scene has to offer.

Fans of the art of burlesque may remember the frankly and rather hilariously misinformed Hebden Burlesque Festival brouhaha of 2013. In a nutshell, an elected official who apparently didn’t know the first thing about burlesque decided to deny the festival the opportunity to take place in a council-managed building, saying that she considered that the art form “arouses strong feelings, and many people feel it is demeaning to women, and raises issues of gender equality”. Which is odd, considering that this just isn’t true and, moreover, Hebden Bridge has a reputation for being really rather liberal, at least when it comes to women.

Heidi Bang Tidy, who co-produces the festival with fellow performer Lady Wildflower, insisted at the time that burlesque was a “legal and legitimate art form” and that “we object to being told that the people of Hebden Bridge are not capable of deciding for themselves whether they wish to purchase a ticket for a burlesque show and that our show is not an ‘appropriate’ use of a public building”.

Unperturbed by all that, this year Tidy and Wildflower return with the UK’s most “inappropriate” festival, or for the grown-ups among us, Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival, and the line-up is blinding. Rosie Lugusi, Khandie Khisses, Vicky Butterfly, Andromeda Circus, The Boy With Tape On His Face, Lili La Scala and Tricity Vogue will all be there, along with the renowned “Anti-Art School” Dr Sketchy’s. The festival, which runs from Thursday 30th April – Sunday 3rd May 2015, looks set to be a long weekend of fun, frolicking, fabulousness and potentially a glittery middle finger to those locals of a more sensitive disposition.

Boy with Tape
The Boy With Tape on His Face.


The festival features a plethora of live shows spread over four venues in two towns, Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge. The party is kicked off next Thursday by a charity fundraiser and Burlesque Bazaar hosted by The Voice’s Kiki Deville. Rosie Lugosi helms the Late Night Cabaret the next evening and Heidi Bang Tidy reveals the stars of tomorrow at the Legend In The Making Newcomers Competition. The winner of that contest joins an all-star cast at the following day’s Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival Gala featuring Vicky Butterfly, Russell Bruner, The Boy With Tape on His Face and Violet Blaze.

There will also be plenty to do during the day with twelve different workshops providing an education in a number of areas. Attendees can learn to bump’n’grind with Khandie Khisses, get lessons on the art of the fan-dance or dive into “Burlesque for Beginners” classes. And then there’s the whip cracking workshops, vintage hair tutorials, aerial taster sessions and lessons on how to play a ukelele with Tricity Vogue, who is also bringing her swing band along to perform at the festival.

All in all, the weekend will be packed with scintillating burlesque acts, amazing circus performances and engaging workshops. Get there and show the town just why burlesque is something worth celebrating for everyone.

For information and to book tickets check out the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival website.

Eastend Cabaret To Headline First Birmingham Cabaret Festival

Hands up if you've been there: EastEnd Cabaret's Accidental Anal ended the show.Read more

The full line-up of the inaugural Birmingham Cabaret Festival has been released. From 14-30 May, the Old Joint Stock public house will host to a selection of London favourites as well as a variety of local talents.

Musical comedy stalwarts EastEnd Cabaret will headline on 28 and 29 May with new show Perverts. The deviant duo are joined by filthy puppets Boris & Sergey and London Cabaret Award 2014 Best Newcomer Tina T’Urner. Silent clown Kiki Lovechild brings his magical show The Weatherman to the intimate 100 seat studio theatre above the Grade II listed pub while chap hop superstar Mr B. The Gentleman Rhymer will be there too. Edinburgh Fringe favourites Mat Ricardo and Lili La Scala will be there too.

Those looking for burlesque kicks should check out The Footsie Club. Ginger Blush, Scarlett Daggers and Missy Malone will be joined by Kiki Lovechild on 14 May and Tina T’urner Tea Lady on 20 May. Ginger Blush also has her one-woman show Nell Gwynn’s History Laid Bare about England’s original “spice girl sex bomb”. Local comedy troupe Foghorn Improv are there too with their Foghorn Follies show.

Full listings below:

14 May: The Footsie Club
15 May: Boris & Sergey’s Vaudevillian Adventure
16 May: Mat Ricardo: Showman
20 May: The Footsie Club
21 May: Lili la Scala: Sirens
22 May: Mr B. The Gentleman Rhymer
23 May: Nell Gwynn’s History Laid Bare
26 May: Tina T’urner Tea Lady
27 May: Kiki Lovechild: The Weatherman
28 May: Foghorn Improv: Foghorn Follies
29/30 May: EastEnd Cabaret: Perverts

For more information, see the Old Joint Stock’s website.

Image: Guilherme Zuhlke O’Connor exclusively for This Is Cabaret

Review: Cabaret At Scarfes Bar, Rosewood London

From left to right: Laura London, Sammy Dineen, Dusty Limits, Valerie Murzak and Vicky Butterfly.Read more

Does London want more or less posh cabaret? More it seems. On every other Sunday between now and Christmas, Cabaret At Scarfes Bar will see the Rosewood London’s iconic watering hole turned into a den of refined iniquity.

Located deep in what estate agents refer to as Midtown, Scarfes Bar has a certain old school grandeur about it. It was once known as the East Banking Hall and the interiors are protected with Listed Building status. It’s the kind of place where at one time it may have seen well-moustachioed men walking around in plus-fours, possibly with a golf bag over one shoulder or perhaps a cocked shotgun under one arm and a dead grouse under the other. These days, it is adorned with the works of and named after satirical illustrator Gerald Scarfe and the clientele are more likely to be well-groomed hedge-funders busily sexting away or drinking with the latest conquest.

The bill of fare at Cabaret At Scarfes Bar is certainly not to be sniffed at. Leading the charge is the Brisbane-born Dusty Limits. The only person to walk off with two London Cabaret Awards for Best Host, his talents go beyond compèring. Armed with a three-and-a-half octave vocal range, he has starred in critically acclaimed solo shows Post Mortem and Darkling and is a veritable doyen of the London cabaret scene.

He’s joined here by other experienced hands. To one side, musical trio Tom Carradine, Tom Mansi and Jonathan Kitching provide live accompaniment to many of the routines. Laura London’s close-up magic is simple yet astounding. Sammy Dineen is the sexier-than-thou acrobat whose brazen upside-down striptease noticeably raises the temperature of the room and focuses the attention in this chatty atmosphere. Fellow circus artiste Valerie Murzak makes expert use of her lithe body and the bar’s limited performance space to twist, turn and tantalise.

Edinburgh Fringe favourite Lili La Scala (Another Fucking Variety Show, Siren) combines some so-so clowning with a cultured collection of chansons like Bei Mir Bistu Schein and Sous Les Ciels de Paris. And then there’s Vicky Butterfly, an elegant and energetic blaze of burlesque. Some may call it posh stripping but both her Idol of Perversity and The Swan Bride routines are thrilling, hypnotic affairs with costumes to die for.

Compared to La Scala, Limits’ song selections feel a little closer to home and, given the redolent Englishness of the venue, all the more relevant. Original number Reunion is a grand call to arms while Mad About The Boy and If Love Were All are stirring reminders of the power of Noël Coward, a man one could easily imagine pulling up a pew here back in his day. Limits’ cover of Amanda Palmer’s Coin-Operated Boy is possibly a leap too far for this audience – the various blank and bemused faces suggest that perhaps coins are not a form of currency they are au fait or comfortable with now or if they ever were.

There’s certainly little to fault on the casting front but the venue is a real challenge. Sightlines for about a third of the audience are often negligible, especially for those nearer to the external entrance. The long, thin layout of the performance space means that for those seated at either end, the night’s entertainment swings from feast to famine. During the performances, those chatting at the bar amongst themselves or with one of the performers create more unnecessary background buzz than Weimarean atmospherics and waiting staff bringing food and drink add to the noise and motion of the show. Too many of those sitting find themselves standing or craning their necks to see the all-too-brief moments of physical brilliance from Butterfly, Dineen and Murzak.

The obvious solution, it seems, would be to begin the quaffing early and bag a pew somewhere towards the centre of the room. This might be posh cabaret but the riches are not just not in the audience.

Performances of Cabaret at Scarfes Bar are scheduled for 2 November, 16 November, 30 November and 14 December 2014.

Cabaret At Scarfes Bar. Scarfes Bar, Rosewood London, London WC1V 7EN. £30.