When you think of cabaret, you may indeed imagine a show just like Issy van Randwyck's Bright Lights and Promises (running until 10 November at The Crazy Coqs). An art deco room with dim lights, grand piano, and red curtains covering the windows and back of the stage; a blonde dame crooning with earnestness and cheek; witty punchlines, a feather boa, and forays into the audience.
What you won’t experience is the ‘21st century cabaret’ taking London by storm from the likes of Meow Meow, Bourgeois and Maurice and myriad burlesque troupes. In her solo show, van Randwyck - best known from the act Fascinating Aida - does cabaret in the classic vein: nearly all song, variations on classic tunes, no dancing, short comedic interludes. It’s pleasant, amusing, and very likable, but it isn’t in-yer-face. It’s at a safe distance.
Van Randwyck is a mild and charming performer, a persona which she says is just her. "In cabaret you must be very honest," she says. "I have no airs and graces to be destroyed. I don’t have anywhere to fall." Born in Hong Kong to aristocratic Dutch parents, she was schooled in Kent - and then at Madame Jojo’s during its heyday in the late-’80s. More recently, she says that seeing Meow Meow in Edinburgh made her cry - though not enough to change her own tune.
The 20-song set spans cabaret classics, such as Janis Ian’s "At Seventeen" and Shirley Bassey’s "Diamonds are Forever" (with a nod to the new Bond film). Most, but not all, showcase van Randwyck’s clear voice and strong range.
Her rendition of Jacques Brel’s "Sons Of", which mourns fallen soldiers, is tender and heartfelt, and held the attentive audience. Jauntier numbers are "Fuck ’Em If They Can’t Take a Joke" "That Big Black Drag Queen in the Sky" (with tambourine) and "I Always Say Hello To a Flower" (choice lyric: "Hi, acynth!"). Twice, she sings briefly in Dutch. For her rousing encore, "Vodka", she dons a Russian accent and tosses a black-and-white boa to the ground with a: "Wait in the car!".
The 40-odd audience members at The Crazy Coqs (which seats 66) - middle-aged couples and groups including her agent and friends - adored the show. They liked the range of familiar songs and her strides round the circular, black-and-white painted room. One woman came after seeing van Randwyck perform with Larry Adler 15 years ago; her husband, who doesn’t often see cabaret, loved the audience interaction (which included him).
If you fancy 75 minutes of classic, song-based cabaret and have £20 to pay, you’ll be cheering and whistling with the rest of them. Either way it’s worth touring the new francophile complex that is Brasserie Zédel - complete with restaurant, bar américain and much marble, mirror and gold. If you’re after more current cabaret, sweaty and messy and raunchy and wild, head farther into Soho for a more crammed and dirtier basement.