Cabaret good timers have often been looked down on. No one can deny that arts pages are being squeezed in an increasingly advert-heavy print media. But cabaret has always had less attention than most.
Apart from Time Out the only other reputable media coverage of this scene comes from This Is Cabaret, a website that “gives the scene a voice like no other publication has done before”. Speaking to Editor in Chief Franco Milazzo, his frustration is palpable. "This is art", he implores, "so why do people think it's just fluff?" He’s positively wringing his hands.
There’s too much debauchery in these louche performers (even if it’s highly crafted debauchery) for some people to see it as a serious art form. But cabaret’s love of glamour and a rollicking good time doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously.
A few weeks ago I was enchanted by the irrepressible musical comedy duo EastEnd Cabaret. Bernadette Byrne and Victor Victoria are quite simply fabulous. Hilarious musicians and consummate entertainers it was not just my raucous guffawing that bowled me over. These girls are seriously subversive. In Danger Wank they make huge strides (in tall heels) for women everywhere in a witty take on this historically male domain; women can laugh about these subjects too you know. In fact theirs is the most feminist show I’ve seen in an age.
Victor’s cross dressing is obvious to the point of ridiculous; a line divides her into one side man, one side woman. Her moustache stops halfway and has traces of red lipstick on it. What may seem a silly costume choice is shown to be a playful-but-insightful comment on society’s need to bluntly define gender roles.
Another subversive songstress is New York darling Lady Rizo. Her mixture of sensuality, soul, silliness and spunky salaciousness makes her one of the most sophisticated solo shows at the Fringe. Sure this is entertainment, and her hair looks incredible, but it’s also clever, potent and naughty. She plays with sexuality and ideas of otherness, appealing to anyone who’s ever felt like the odd one out.
With numbers like "Song of Freedom" (which she seduces everyone into singing) Lady Rizo brings community into a fractured society and an even more fractured fringe. It may sound wanky but check her out and you’ll see what I mean.
All these women are talented musicians but it's the extra glitz that makes them dangerous. They enthral us with their humour and glamour and then prick us with pointed questions about the world we live in. But hang on, I’ve got too serious; there’s also lots of glitter.
It seems wrong these acts shouldn’t be seen as art. But the hot tongs seem to be out and the fight is on. In London The Royal Vauxhall Tavern's Hot August Fringe boasts a stellar line up and for the second year there is a dedicated cabaret section in the Edinburgh Fringe Programme. Adding more sparkle to the fringe, Time Out and Soho Theatre have combined to create the (rather chunkily named but hey we can’t have everything) Time Out and Soho Theatre Edinburgh Cabaret Award, or TO&ST for short. TO&ST will result in a two week run in London for the winning act.
Today in Edinburgh, Time Out's Cabaret Editor Ben Walters is chairing the Cabaret Uncovered Panel at the BBC’s pop-up venue and with over 700 requests for tickets it’s proved to be one of the most successful of these events done so far. It seems the tides are turning. As Walters says, “The cabaret takeover continues…”