There seems to be an obvious connection between the appetite for variety and the current recession - few other artforms can offer such a guaranteed level of joyous escapism. Add in the smoking ban and recent threats to double the price of alcohol and you have a climate of prohibitionism that instantly sends audiences rushing for the nearest speakeasy.
And that's exactly how Hackney's The Last Days of Decadence venue bills itself: “a sumptuous art-deco speakeasy that is at once a bar nightclub, live music & theatre venue and, indeed, a tea room”. Said tearoom serves up the “soon-to-be-notorious Cockteas - hot alcoholic infusions served by the pot”.
It's here that next month Des O'Connor is compèring (alongside “sleazy” Mel Frye) an evening of entertainment entitled Mr Choade's Travelling Amusement (2 & 3 April 2009). This is the touring incarnation of Mr Choade's Upstairs/Downstairs, the longest running burlesque show in New York, based at the Slipper Room on Lower East Side. Participants include Tigger! - the “ King of Boylesque” - and Bunny Love, the “glittery goddess of New York City's downtown burlesque scene”.
But that's only the tip of the iceberg on a London fringe scene that also boasts the newly restarted cabaret nights at Hyde Park's Pizza on the Park venue (The Legendary Liliane Montevecchi: Back on the Boulevard opened last night), the perennial popularity of Soho's Madame Jojo's (beg, borrow or steal a ticket to Boylesque), the forthcoming new show from Nathan Evans (creator of Vauxhallville) at Holborn's “decadent little supper club” Volupté (24 March - 3 April) and countless other options, including the newly announced summer residency of the Udderbelly.
And the West End is taking note of the trend. Drag have never been more popular, with Wig Out!, La Cage Aux Folles and Priscilla representing the past, present and future of cabaret-inspired shows on major London stages. And there is doubtless more to follow as producers seek to cash in on the trend for all things frivilous and feelgood.
- by Katie Blemler & Theo Bosanquet