Lady Alex On ... The Rise of Cabaret & BurlesqueDate: 18 October 2010
As the Wam Bam’s big birthday bash approaches this Saturday, 23 October 2010 - founder and host Lady Alex tells us about the starting one of London's top burlesque and cabaret shows and how the genres are making themselves increasingly apparent on the West End scene.
Wow, acting feels like a whole life time away now. After graduating from East 15 I went down a very traditional route. I was involved with a variety of productions, starring as young Shakespearian damsels in As you like it at the Young Vic to tours of Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night to the odd crack whore in Office at the Soho Theatre. Generally as I had very classical looks I was always well suited to period dramas. I appeared in the BBC's Virgin Queen, Bleak House to more recently the new Miss Marple remake of The Mirror Cracked playing the young Heather Badcock.
I'm still not entirely sure what led me away from the more traditional roles to the world of cabaret. I blame in part Mike Leigh as it was while I was doing a lengthy improvised audition for him that a seed of an idea was planted. We'd had a brief chat about this and that before we started and he latched onto my dry Jewish sense of humour - well it takes one to know one! He quipped that with my sense of humour and ample décolletage I'd be well suited to the cabaret stage. He may have said it in jest but he struck gold.
I have always loved comedy and briefly ventured into comedy world with a ‘magic double act’. It was quite successful for a brief time and gave me a real taste for pursuing work in this field. You never forget that first comedy gig and intense rush you get from it after – it’s quite a contrast to long hours of filming the same scene over and over again you find in TV.
Gradually I began thinking more and more about combining comedy and cabaret and burlesque, creating a real modern overhaul style of variety. I’d always wanted to try out burlesque so for my 30th birthday I booked myself on a tassel twirling course and hey poncho, Lady Alex was born.
The Wam Bam concept evolved largely due to my dire attention span and need for something different every five minutes! I wanted to combine all the best elements of music, magic, comedy and burlesque in a show which is high energy, packed with variety and hits you with a new unexpected punch of fresh energy with every act.
We started out in 2006 with a little gig on the Battersea Barge. It was a small boat on the Thames with so much character - it felt like a real underground cabaret scene where magical events unfolded. I decided to hire the venue for a one off Sunday night in October and let my creativity run wild. For one night only I had carte blanche to fill the stage with all the weird and wonderful cabaret I could find. It was raining and windy and the boat was rocking away on stormy waters but the show was incredible.
People enjoyed the variety and energy of Wam Bam so much that I kept on doing it. New line ups every time but still the same mixed formula. Over time I have refined it a lot as we have moved our venues and whilst still keeping a loyal following we are also expanding into different audiences. Currently we have the weekly Saturday slot at the Café de Paris and play to a thriving West End audience, so we have entered into a much more mainstream audience which is great.
Right now there’s a huge demand for variety shows. It’s funny – ‘variety’ used to be such a dirty word and not at all fashionable which I think it left a bit of a void – there are a wealth of amazing performers who don't fit into traditional comedy nights but are simply fantastic. Now you only have to look at how popular programs like Britain's Got Talent are to see how people like new and unusual acts. Variety now is experiencing a big comeback!
I see more and more cabaret shows and circus shows popping up in West End venues and they are fantastic fun. It is very difficult for West End shows at the moment as it's been a real struggle for producers to keep shows afloat. I think shows like the Wam Bam which offer the audience a more interactive experience can only be a good thing for the West End entertainment in general. If it brings people into the West End for live entertainment instead of staying at home I'm all for it. It's about changing people perspectives and reminding them how good live entertainment is and how much is out there to see.
We are in the most glamorous venue at the Cafe de Paris, so from the moment you step through the doors you are transported into another world of glamour and decadence – it’s the perfect escape from the everyday. The Wam Bam kick-starts with free burlesque taster classes by the UK’s first school of burlesque Burlesque Baby, then you are seated at your table for fine dining or drinks in the main ballroom accompanied by well dressed folks to enjoy a fantastic show. Afterwards we continue the evening with drinks and dancing. It’s really a complete evening full of eclectic experiences taking place all in one place.
Cabaret has been steadily growing over the last ten years. The popularity of burlesque has been a massive boost behind it. I think that people are becoming increasingly attracted to the glamour of burlesque and the naughtiness implied behind it. It’s an exciting adventure going to a cabaret show in comparison to traditional shows. Also TV is pretty dire at the moment - people are bored of being told what to watch and what to think. They want to experience something new, different and engaging.
I think the success of the Wam Bam is down to many reasons - in my case stubborn perseverance counts for a lot. Also you can never compromise the quality of a show - the show always comes first. By producing consistently high quality shows - people will keep coming back for more. I never stand still I’m always experimenting with new ways in which to entertain an audience.