Benjamin Louche is truly one of midnight’s children, a crepuscular creature of the dark who comes out as the sun goes down. True, the host-about-town has been seen compering a number of very different nights including regular wrestling extravaganza Lucha Britannia and vintage fetish night Dark Circus, but his spiritual home is undoubtably the infamous Double R Club.
Its ever-evolving bill of circus. burlesque, musical comedy and performance art has seen it walk away with the last two London Cabaret Awards for best ongoing production and for good reason. A monthly show inspired by the works of David Lynch, he co-founded with his wife Rose Thorne, it is the capital’s benchmark for boundary-pushing entertainment which is family-friendly only if the family is the Manson family.
Over three special shows, the Club has left from its usual haunt of the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club for a mini-tour it calls The Summer of Unease to take in Jackson’s Lane and the London Spiegeltent.
We collared Louche for some questioning as he prepared for the Summer of Unease’s grand finale this week.
How have you found performing at London Wonderground rather than Bethnal Green?
It’s been amazing. I’ll admit it was intimidating at first, but once we’d seen the space, the staging etc. it gave us the chance to really expand what The Double R is in all manner of directions impossible at our usual shows. In particular the array of entrances and exits in the Spiegeltent, the sheer area we had to play with, and the beautiful lighting has added a whole new dimension to what we do. The Spiegeltent itself is an absolute gift. The staff at Wonderground have been incredibly welcoming and helpful too; they do so many shows so quickly that they’re all super-quick and great at what they do.
We also created a few surprises, unique to the Wonderground shows, a few, well, “visitations” that weave throughout the evening and add a certain air of unease and disquiet, all of which will be present at our final, and extended, Wonderground show on the 2nd August.
But we are certainly looking forward to our return to our true home in Bethnal Green on 19th September for our fourth birthday!
Why specifically Lynchian cabaret?
It struck me that Lynch was an ideal jumping off point for a cabaret show because so much of his work seems to include theatrical settings and performance spaces within their narrative. Whether it’s a nightclub or bar: The Slow Club in Blue Velvet, The Luna Lounge in Lost Highway or The Roadhouse in Twin Peaks; or the more formalised, if skewed, theatricality of Eraserhead‘s tiny stage in the radiator, The Elephant Man‘s freakshow, or Mulholland Drive‘s Club Silencio. On top of this, of course, both myself and my wife and co-producer Rose Thorne are huge fans of his work. Rose had, when we started, been performing burlesque for a number of years, and I had therefore come into contact with the cabaret scene and wondered how it could be tweaked to express a somewhat more uneasy atmosphere…
What we’re trying to avoid, chiefly I suppose, is boring ourselves. I never really considered that we’d set up The Double R in opposition to anything, but were merely trying to create something that didn’t already exist and something that we would like to go to. But it’s true that there’s a tendency when people hear “dark cabaret” (a moniker often attached to us) for them to think “gothic”; this is certainly something we are trying to avoid. No, we won’t book your vampire act, or your Tim Burton themed act, they’re simply nothing to do with what The Double R is.
Despite what a safe, vacuous hack Burton turned into as a director, and despite the fact that we both love a good horror film, horror films are, by and large, not frightening. They may make you jump, may make you tense, but they will likely not have the depth of impact that Lynch will, at least in our experience. Having said that, if Lynch ever does a vampire film, we’re buggered!
How do you feel about the resurgence of cabaret in the public eye, and increasing mainstream attention?
I’m not someone who thinks that popularity is the same as pandering. Any attention great shows or performers get on their own terms is a good thing; if they’re getting people through the door then good on them. It’s only when the attention is not on a performer’s or promoter’s terms, such as the voracious and disrespectful way cabaret (hell, everyone) is treated on repulsive shows like Britain’s Got Talent that it becomes a problem and counterproductive.
Who – bar David Lynch, obviously – would you cite as aesthetic or creative influences?
Personally, as far as the style of my intros at The Double R go, I’d have to say it’s a mixture of Rod Serling’s fantastic, eerie and sardonic introductions to the original Twilight Zone TV series, mixed with the OTT hyperbole of Charles Gray’s The Criminologist from The Rocky Horror Picture Show; and, if I’m honest, not a little of the ridiculousness of Stephen Fry’s Gelliant Gutfright.
Other than that, it’s things that unsettle, things that suggest something, to quote Lynch, just “a hair different” but different enough to make the viewer uneasy. Both Rose and I were both big fans of the 80s British TV series Sapphire and Steel, where Joanna Lumley and David McCallum starred as personifications of the titular elements, travelling through time investigating strange mysteries. Some of these episodes were seriously frightening and, perhaps due to budget constraints, relied on a sense of dread and unease more than flashy effects (often the effects themselves were terrible!). In fact it may even have been an episode of Sapphire and Steel that began my love affair with the profoundly disturbing poem Antigonish:
“Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…”
Other than that, to be honest, the nightmares that I had throughout my childhood inspire me a great deal (some which were documented in this blog entry). Nowadays I seldom have nightmares, maybe because I’m venting them upon the general public…?
What’s all this about a nude cabaret calendar? And which month will you be?
Aaah, well. Following a flippant quip by myself, and an intriguing suggestion from a certain someone, Rose Thorne decided to put together an All-Nude Cabaret Charity Calender, all the proceeds of which will go to both Cancer Research and Macmillan.
She’s already cajoled, bribed and teased a number of amazing members of London’s cabaret community to disrobe in the name of charity, and those that couldn’t be involved or who demurred are being cajoled further into appearing at our fantastic launch event at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, October 27th! It’ll be a great ending to the first London Cabaret Festival and all for an excellent cause!
Rumours that I, Benjamin Louche, may be showing skin to represent the month of November, my birth month, cannot be confirmed or denied; however, it may be wise to keep in mind the words of Morrissey: “November spawned a monster…”
You can pre-order your copy, or copies, of the calendar HERE: http://thedoublerclub.
Which Lynch (and non-Lynch) film would you recommend everyone see?
I’d say three of Lynch’s best, that everyone should see, would be (in nothing but chronological order) Blue Velvet, Lost Highway andMulholland Drive. These are, to me, Lynch at the height of his powers, frightening, mysterious and beautifully crafted. I only omit Fire Walk with Me from this list because the watching of Twin Peaks is essential before viewing it.
As far as non-Lynch films go, two perennial favourites of mine, that also speak somewhat to the odd and disturbing, would be Scorsese’s very atypical After Hours, which has a wonderfully dreamlike feeling of strangeness about it, and Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible, which is equal parts visually arresting, aurally disorientating, incredibly brutal, difficult and disquieting.
You were quite vocal about the London Festival of Cabaret when it was first announced. A few weeks on from that point, what are your feelings now?
Can’t say my feelings on the subject have changed at all. I still find the London Festival of Cabaret to be non-inclusive, blinkered and insulting to the already thriving London cabaret community; claims that they didn’t know about the current scene paint them as either unable to successfully Google the word “London” and the word “cabaret” together (in which case they probably shouldn’t be allowed out on their own), or cynical and elitist. However, their appearance has had a very positive effect, in that they have become a catalyst for the creation of a real cabaret festival, the first incarnation of which will be this October, where a truly inclusive and dazzlingly diverse number of shows will come under the umbrella of the London Cabaret Festival. It’s gonna be great!
You can check out Benjamin Louche and the other Double R Club reprobates at the London Wonderground this Friday. Can’t make it? Join the Club on Facebook or Twitter for the lowdown on their future shows.
Photo credit: Sin Bozkurt