Cabaret at the Fringe: will the lack of a Spiegeltent sink it?

Feature by Erin McElhinney | 04 Aug 2009

Hmm, let’s see. You’ll have, no doubt, read numerous article over recent years about the ‘resurgence’ of burlesque, the ‘rediscovery’ of vaudeville, the 'revival' of music hall. Here at The Skinny we reckon that our readers - given their tendency to have not merely their finger, but both feet firmly planted on the cultural pulse – have grasped the fact that cabaret is back, and intend to proceed straight to dishing the dirt on the highlights said genre offers this festival.

A quick word search in the electronic version of the Fringe programme throws up no less than 81 usages of the word ‘cabaret’, and, needless to say, some of them are sorely misused. To be clear, we’re strictly talking about the type of show that contains some combination of sequins, eyeliner, smoky voices and mesmerising feats; the unusual, the downright bizarre, a tease and a satire in equal measure.

If you’re looking for variety, the first port of call should always be The Bongo Club Cabaret; running in a variety of guises for a number of years, it trawls through every show in town, picking out the weird, wonderful and scintillatingly saucy to appear in a constantly changing nightly line-up (hosted by the inimitable Dusty Limits), and is one of the best-value tickets in town. Slightly more on the rich side, but upping the glamour stakes, is the Ministry of Burlesque’s High Tease at the Voodoo Rooms; with a wealth of experience and contacts, you can expect the crème de la crème to appear here. Or check out the newer, more avant garde Kabarett’s Kleine Komedie, part of PBH’s Free Fringe: you may not always like the acts, but you won’t be able to look away…

The Fringe is, as ever, unique in bringing numerous ‘must see’ acts in one place, and cabaret-wise, darlink, this year you’re spoilt for choice. In the ‘lucky-if-you-get-a-ticket’ category is Camille O’Sullivan: Dark Angel at Assembly (a seductive siren) and The Tiger Lilies with their Olivier Award-winning ‘Shockheaded Peter’, while longtime Fringers Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen are appearing in no less than two venues (Assembly and The Queen’s Hall) and are always worth a look. Debut shows that are bound to produce a buzz this year include the completely bonkers Kitten on the Keys, who performs her own unique material on mental illness, addiction and rock 'n’ roll, and Desmorphia, a long overdue musical comedy showcase, fronted by the delectable Des O’Connor – ‘Cheap, Shite, White Wine’ is worth the ticket price alone. And then there’s the UK debut of the Controlled Falling Project – currently touring Australia – at the Underbelly, a show pretty much guaranteed to leave you gasping at the acrobatic skill of the human body.

With the Spiegeltent taking a well-earned break this year, there were concerns that absence of the Fringe’s natural home of all things cabaret would mean a programme lacking in sparkly avant garde; but with a wealth of headliners and even more unknowns to discover, it’s time to break out the feather boas. And, er, there’s always the Lady Boys, of course. Cough...