Festival tents may be the antithesis of cabaret’s usual urban haunts but this year’s Latitude line-up is an enticing prospect.
The Latitude Festival will return to its usual Suffolk pitch from 14-17 July with its usual heady mix of music, poetry, theatre and more. This summer, that “more” will include a cabaret tent with an incredibly appealing roster of stars from the UK and beyond.
The miming maniac from Down Under known as The Boy With Tape On His Face will be demonstrating why he is the acceptable face of vaudeville insanity while Reggie Watts will be throwing beatboxing, singing, improv into a virtual blender to create an ingenious comedy cocktail.
We raved about Desmond O’Connor’s new musical Royal Vauxhall when it was first staged last month. Whether the story of what happened to Princess Di, Freddy Mercury and Kenny Everett on a night out will have the same impact outside the RVT will be fascinating to see.
Dean Street doyens Soho Theatre have an enviable array of performers for their showcase, not least Le Gateau Chocolat(above), Christeene and Peter and Bambi aka La Soirée‘s Asher “SLAAAADE!” Treleaven and Gypsy Wood.
You can find Ursula Martinez, the performance artist who franchises out her most famous act, in the Duckie tent alongside drag royalty in the form of Myra Dubois. The latter is going to be hosting the show so expect some exquisite zingers fired left, right and centre as she introduces RVT favourites Figs in Wigs and Barbara Brownskirt & The Frank Chickens.
Last but not least, the hub of East End drag fabulousness known as The Gloryare bringing a variety show. Alongside their in-house band, the pub’s “landladies” Jonny Woo and John Sizzle will be presenting some stars of their brilliant drag king contests Lipsync1000 and Man Up!
More information on Latitude Festival can be found on the official website. Tickets are currently on sale.
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”.
Banbury Cross at Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival 2014.
EastEnd Cabaret at Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival 2014.
Joe Black at Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival 2014.
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.
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.
Somewhere in a galaxy far, far away, a slip of a girl stands on a balcony and ponders aloud. “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” Wise words and no mistake but when the nomenclature in question revolves around “cabaret”, many performers take umbrage over its use and, more accurately, its abuse. The current crop of variety entertainers are not the kind to take this sort of thing lying down; shimmying seductively or hanging from silks maybe, but not lying down.
Last October, a crack squad of cabaratti gathered before a video camera to decry the way that X Factor judges had labelled various acts as “too cabaret”. The result was Cabariot, a defiant and cheeky shot across the bows which even Gary Barlow saw the funny side of.
Scroll forward twelve months and there’s a different kind of trouble at t’mill. When the London Festival Of Cabaret (LFOC) launched itself earlier this year, this celebration of the American and British songbook was widely seen as a blunt snub (albeit unintentionally) to and by the wider London cabaret scene. Before long, the angry performers turned pitchforks into ploughshares and created the London Cabaret Festival (LCF) which is currently running until the end of October.
Both festivals have plans to return next May but, before then, the LCF put together a new Les Miserables-inspired video. Written by Hansel Amadeus Mannish (one half of Frisky & Mannish), it touches upon the core issues which led to the LCF’s creation as well as providing ample examples of the breadth of cabaret talent being ignored by LFOC.
Curtain up on the one and only London Cabaret Festival – diverse, maverick and strictly no pompoms.
The inaugural London Cabaret Festival set its bar high on Tuesday night when it launched with a fundraiser at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club ahead of a month-long carnival of the most diverse and innovative cabaret due to start on 1 October.
Hosting this night of infinite variety was glamorous songbird Lili La Scala and juggling genius Mat Ricardo, who entertained us with his famous American bowling ball “neck catch” while making some equally well aimed jibes at Alexander Armstrong’s recent clanger in the Evening Standard.
Just as erroneously, Armstrong stated “I’m convinced that cabaret is set to return.” With a perfectly balanced line up of rich and diverse talents you’d struggle to find in any other city, evening’s grassroots celebration proved that, not only had London’s cabaret scene been trailblazing for years, but that it was at the peak of its powers. Moreover, the sheer calibre of the bill spoke volumes for the scene’s famed collaborative nature.
The roll call included deadpan magician Piff the Magic Dragonwho dropped by for some card tricks minus his usual canine sidekick Mr Piffles. Fortunately, drag artiste Miss Cairo filled the gap, ably stepping in as his lovely assistant and spawning the accidental birth of a new double act.
Fellow Edinburgh Fringe veteran Des O’Connor treated us to his song about octogenarian sex, and female absurdist dance troupe Figs In Wigs and their immaculately co-ordinated hand moves, won the prize for off the wall entertainment as they danced to Kool and the Gang’s Ladies Night in white hooded boiler suits with their signature sequinned monobrows.
Giving them a run for their money in the kooky troupe stakes were the maverick Original Street Dancers. Their hybrid routine of street dancing and Morris dancing was like watching Vicky Pollard on May Day, brilliantly executed and full of attack. With the LipSinkers fresh from their short but well-received Fringe run and a highly original equestrian burlesque act from flame haired Sophia St Villier, there was something for everyone and not a pompom in sight.
The evening had many highlights, but the multi-talented and impressively flexible Abigail Collins proved that she is cabaret’s triple threat, introducing the latest act from her stable of characters, Peggy Sued, a walking incarnation of the famous Psycho shower scene. Dressed as a shower curtain and impaled with fake knives, Collins was as sharp as a whip and sung a perfect rendition of Fever whilst doing the splits on the shoulders of two audience members. Not an easy feat and one that’s coming to a cabaret venue near you.
The show ended on a high with international sensation, the Boy With Tape On His Face proving with his joyful study of the ridiculous that two oven mitts singing Endless Love to each other will never get old.
The London Cabaret Festival is not the first cabaret festival in the capital; far from it, as this will be the sixth this year alone. What makes this one special is that it has been set up by the community of performers and not by the deeper-pocketed venues like the London Wonderground’s Spiegeltent, Jacksons’ Lane and the assortment behind the songbook-based London Festival of Cabaret. Money raised by this event will go towards funding essential festival expenses, giving the artists involved an autonomy rare for any artform.
And finally, the happy news was revealed on the night that the Frisky and Mannish will be leading another Cabariot song. Well, it is X Factor season after all. Get ready for it to go viral.
The London Cabaret Festival Fundraiser took part on 3 September. The Festival itself runs at selected venues across London throughout the month of October. For more details go to http://www.londoncabaretfestival.com
Very few venues resemble the results of dropping LSD in the middle of a GCSE biology lesson. With that in mind, we welcome back the giant upside-down purple cow that houses the Udderbelly Festival. It returns in April to its now-traditional grazing pasture on the Southbank and, although much of the line-up is comedy-orientated, there are some stone-cold unmissable cabaret events lined up.
Following on from his West End run over Christmas, mime artist The Boy With Tape On His Face will be landing in June to provide ingenious comedy that tickles brains of every age. Fans of audience-assisted improvisation can look forward to the blisteringly brilliant comedy-rap act Abandoman and Showstoppers: The Improvised Musical.
Those hankering for circus will not be disappointed. Comprising a cast of acrobats, aerialists, dancers, musicians and daredevil stuntmen, Flown by Pirates of the Carabina promises to be a breathtaking event worthy of filling Cantina‘s boots.
Not that the folk behind Cantina are sitting on their laurels. Currently debuting as part of the Adelaide Fringe, their new show Limbo promises to push the boundaries. Udderbelly’s co-venue London Wonderground will be hosts to its crew of circus performers including an illusionist, a sword swallower and acrobats. They will be travelling halfway round the world for a show which will make or break that venue’s summer season. No pressure.
Finally, the spectacular late-night showcase Friday Night Freakshow is back for a fourth year of unpredictable hijinks and the cream of the capital’s cabaret acts hosted by deviant damsels EastEnd Cabaret.
Keep those eyeballs planted here for reviews, interviews and competitions.
The Boy With Tape On His Face: 25 June – 14 July (not Mondays).
If audience participation is the mainstay of the cabaret diet, then The Boy With Tape on His Face is a lavish feast of unpredictable entertainment. Relying on little more than backing tracks, props and a constant flow of volunteers onstage, the groundbreaking comic has swayed crowds everywhere from tiny stand-up clubs to massive engagements like the BBC Comedy Proms and the 2011 Royal Variety Performance. Somewhere in between is the Duchess Theatre, where his debut West End run is shaking the dust off the mistletoe mire of the holiday season.
The simple format of the evening is unequivocally sharp. Essentially, the show consists of a string of visual gags, in which immediately recognisable situations emerge from the clever combination of plastic toys, household utensils and unsuspecting audience members. The laughter that follows every punch line signals the spectators’ surprise at the myriad worlds that the Boy conjures up.
For a few seconds, all you see is a farcically high-strung young man pulling shoes, plungers, toilet paper and all sorts of junk out of boxes (or the satchel he wears the whole time). Before you know it, the mundane ingredients yield a horse race, a bullfight, a cowboy duel and other dramatic scenes. Trying to convey with words what the Boy does without them is a minefield of spoilers for any critic, but it’s accurate to say that The Boy With Tape on His Face is the MacGyver of comedy.
Most of the time, the stars are the people the Boy (real name Sam Wills) brings to the spotlight. Warmed up by his disarming buffoonery and precise comic timing, volunteer after volunteer plays into his silly pantomimes in varying degrees of shyness. At every sketch, Wills leads them, plays second fiddle or even watches them from a distance, bouncing off his guests as required. Audience participation can sometimes lead to awkward impasses between performers and their victims. In the 75 minutes or so of The Boy With Tape on His Face, though, there’s never a single boring moment onstage. His resourcefulness is jaw-dropping: where else could you join in a wordless sing-along?
A handful of the stunts take the form of improvised puppets – expect the likes of John Lennon and Stevie Wonder to materialise for brief singing cameos (well, lip-synching). Other times, it’s just the Boy. Wills himself makes an endearing figure to watch. His wide-eyed exasperation is a triumph of non-verbal humour, mocking the efforts of his co-stars with faux indignation or puzzled incredulity.
The Boy With Tape on His Face draws its substance from the wealth of stock references in Western popular culture. Mendelssohn’s Wedding March or the overture from Rossini’s William Tell are timeless examples of quick triggers to spectators’ funny bones, but hit songs and film parodies from the last 50 years also inform the show’s tapestry of jokes. For instance, what comes to mind when a spotlight hits a man onstage and Tom Jones’s You Can Leave Your Hat On starts to play? That is the part of your brain that the Boy tickles so liberally.
Is it comedy? Clown? Cabaret? The Boy With Tape on His Face is all those things, and none of them. It’s astounding how the show bridges a multitude of genres with so much cohesion, and with such an ascetic inventory. Equally striking is how his innovative performance remains utterly accessible, for children as well as adults. That is perhaps the most significant boundary that Wills blurs with his ingenious bag of tricks.
The Boy With Tape on His Face. Performed by Sam Wills. The Duchess Theatre, London WC2B 5LA. 17-22, 17-31 December, 1-5 January, 19:30; 21, 22, 27-29, 31 December, 4-5 January, 16:00. £10-25. http://www.theboywithtapeonhisface.com
Cabaret must be the last true refuge for freedom of expression and spontaneity in a world obsessed with political correctness, health, safety and all those topics that were little more than nonsense mere decades ago.
Of course that means it’s also the right space for performers to harass and abuse their public to their heart’s content. Nobody is free from it: they will abuse paying punters as much as the media. They will rub on you, lick you, steal your booze and drink it on your own shoe. They would even sit on the lap of our very own editor-in-chief.
More amazingly, you may witness that after a whole night of abusing the public, a member of the audience may want to give Holly Penfield a heartfelt hug. Kids, don’t try this at home unless you’re absolutely adorable.
It’s in the news, the movies and, more importantly, in arts listings everywhere: cabaret and burlesque are definitely big. But they’re also easy to take for granted. Are the two words synonyms? (more…)