Monday, 1 July 2013

London Festival of... What?

So, London is hosting its 'first' Festival of Cabaret... this is wonderful: it will be a massive platform and boost to the thriving London cabaret scene. Or at least it would be if it wasn't completely comprised of Musical Theatre performers and Comedians.

One of the festival headliners is the television personality Alexander Armstrong - he is even advertised on the festival website as 'Cabaret newcomer'. How can someone who has never performed in a cabaret show before be suitable to headline an international festival? Oh, that's right, because he's been on the telly and therefore will pull in audiences who don't really have any idea what Cabaret is or can be, and will be treated to a plethora of one-man or one-woman shows featuring Jazz and Musical Theatre standards with a bit of banter and some lame jokes thrown in.

Okay, so: Cabaret literally means "entertainment that breaks down the 'fourth wall'  in a venue where food and drink is served." So, yes, what the London Festival of Cabaret is offering is definitely covered by the umbrella term of Cabaret; the one man show is a mainstay of the cabaret industry (Dusty Limits, Sarah Louise Young, Mat Ricardo... the list goes on), to label this event 'The London Festival of Cabaret' is wrong. How can a festival featuring only one aspect of the cabaret genre claim to represent the entire scene?

Where are the Cabaret superstars? Meow Meow, Frisky and Mannish, Lady Rizo and all of the other hard-working, internationally known names associated with cabaret? I understand the lure of having 'names' such as Elaine Paige and Maria Friedman, but surely place them alongside those who have created and nurtured the cabaret industry to the level we are at, to the level that warrants its own festival, rather than jumping on the coat-tails of the newest buzz word.

The festival website claims that it will "[place] London as a world leader in this unique art form." I'm sorry, but last time I checked, London was already a world leader in this unique art form, thanks to the hundreds of performers working in a cabaret circuit they created.

This festival is pretty much a kick in the teeth to the London cabaret scene, and has ruffled plenty of feathers. The performers who work, day in and day out to pull the cabaret genre out of the underground and combat the idea of the media that cabaret is something old men with single keyboards do at holiday parks in backwater seaside towns.

I have a good friend who has worked for many years on cruise ships: he gets paid a couple of hundred pounds a week extra to perform a 'cabaret' show: he sings a bit of jazz, some musical theatre songs, chats with the old dears in the audience enjoying their dinner, and buggers off. I also have friends who work as variety performers and often do 'fly-in' shows on board cruise ships. When I questioned my friend on the possibility of taking a variety show on board a cruise ship to perform as the cabaret, he told me it would be impossible and ridiculous as what I was suggesting was 'not cabaret'. He went on to say (after a very heated debate) that my "definition of cabaret was obviously not the industry standard" and ooh, how I got on my high horse then.

Unfortunately, this festival seems to prove this narrow viewpoint correct: the wider theatre industry in the UK considers this one particular style to be 'Cabaret' in its entirety.

I doubt the organisers of the festival will particularly listen or care. The festival seems to have been created as a publicity machine for some of the West End stars, using well known, household names to sell tickets and make money rather than to promote and publicise the burgeoning Cabaret scene itself. I would love to see them consider the viewpoints of the many raised voices speaking out about this: perhaps by putting on some bona-fide Cabaret stars alongside their 'names': by featuring many of the wonderfully talented variety, circus and burlesque performers who comprise the *true* London cabaret industry.

And if not - why not put on our own?!

London Festival of Cabaret -
Festival Twitter Feed -


  1. I whole-heartedly agree. Out of work theatre lovies jumping on the bandwagon. FOR SHAME!

  2. I am so sad about this, what is going on in the world!
    We have an uncanny similar issue going on in South Africa. I can just replace the word "Cabaret" with Burlesque!

    We are still new to the Burlesque scene globally however the smaller existing SA community were never invited to the auditions, as "Big Top Burlesque" have their own idea of what Burlesque is to them. All the performers are ballet trained dancers and amazing singers. There is no burlesque that I love and know- and that Burlesque I learned to love and know in London....

    London Cabaret community, carry on with what you do best, you have more years (and passion) under your belt than these newbies- and you have accumulated many followers that love what you do.

    I guess at the end of the day, they are counting on the people that don't like or don't have a clue about the existing cabaret scene. Let them have those people.

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