Birdcages, Martyrs, Pretty Boys and Puppets

Blog by Gareth K Vile | 04 Apr 2010
  • Creative Matyrdom

Since my erstwhile colleague and poker partner Charles Montgomery took advantage of my temporary incapacity, caused by a visceral reaction to Cat Aclysmic’s Man’s Ruin routine, I arrive on The Skinny Blog to find that my review of Kabarett is redundant. In order to try and prove my critical worth against a two foot high puppet, who also seems to be more successful with the ladies, I find myself pondering Scotland’s cabaret scene.

In the past week, I have attended two shows: Kabarett and Rhymes With Purple’s shindig with Braewell Gallery. Even if RWP’s Dirty Little Secret was marred by Montgomery’s own performance- frankly, Leggy Pee does all the hard work in that act, and the quicker she goes solo, the better- it added Roxy Velvet to the familiar faces from The Art Club Cabaret, illustrating the variety and glamour that inspired some of the gallery’s latest exhibition. Kabarett, on the other hand, was grittier, living up to its roots in counter-cultural performance.

For Dirty Little Secret, RWP rolled out their heavy-hitters: Gorman and Lucille Burn, who surprised with a cheeky Kylie number turned into a torch song, Rufus T and Ben at war over the microphone stand, as well as Vendetta Vain’s notorious fan dance and Leggy Pee’s romantic duets with that puppet. Montgomery, inevitably, took advantage of Leggy’s love to let his hands wander. Piff the Magic Dragon blew fire and bluster, and Roxy Velvet spiralled inside a huge birdcage.

Piff is the last of his species: a card trickster who is funny.  Piff’s disarming wit hides the incredible complexity of his magic. Even when he is accidentally setting fire to things, or boasting about the cost of his props, Piff works a reticence into his patter. Like Mr Joe Black at Kabarett, this self-aware meandering takes the sting out of comedy’s current trend to attack audiences while glorifying the comic.

From the burlesque perspective, Roxy stole the show. Her sequence of routines, which reduce the striptease to a preparation for stunning acrobatics, retain  show-girl glamour without the bland conformity of Dita Von Teese, showcasing a decadent elegance. Her eroticism is baroque, ornamental yet understated. The atmosphere of  Hutchinson’s Hall lent her an aristocratic grandeur.

Dee Itsy had chosen her line up to reflect a very different strand. RWP tend towards variety, while Kabarett tends towards Live Art. Joe Black has the presence of a stand-up, flavoured by Victorian menace and Gothic nastiness; Cherry Loco is integrating his femininity and masculinity into extended show-girl pastiches; The Creative Martyrs are co-opting Eastern European mime, vaudeville and doom-laden sing-alongs. The Martyrs, as hosts, revealed a sensitivity to then other performers, moving the show along, pausing for a few songs and dovetailing the acts with sensitivity.

Joe Black is in the lineage of Dusty Limits and Des O’Connor: an intelligent performer who can be crude, and presents a persona that is at once winning and edgy. He deconstructs Lady GaGa and Britney, and even a dark rant against the world, before making a play for Cherry Loco and explaining why, even at Easter, he prefers to give than receive.

Split between burlesque and cabaret, Kabarett manages the Weimar vibe without being imitative: both Cat Aclysmic and Cherry Loco are stretching the boundaries of burlesque. Cherry’s Snow Queen elevates the striptease tradition through a contemporary theme and stunning confidence: his androgyny becomes  a full physical integration of male prowess and female coquetry. Never party political, Kabarett is voicing a sincere alternative to mainstream variety, splashing around in sexuality, satire and the dark underbelly of consumerism. When The Martyrs sing of the joys of war profiteering, they are at once threatening and jolly. Try putting that on Sky One.

It seems as if the neo-burlesque revival is dividing- not mutually exclusive, nor into “good” and “bad”. Instead, certain elements- the glamour, the vaudeville, the decadent, the satirical- are emerging, evolving and settling together. RWP are aiming at a different experience than Itsy’s Collective, and it is this diversity than ensures that the vibrancy of the Scottish scene isn’t just becoming a series of identical nights. There is still cross-over: Vendetta Vain can match Joe Black for funny, dark eroticism, and both Cherry and Cat can perform anywhere and stun a crowd- including the Glasgow subway.  Yet this acknowledgement of theme and tone hints at further revivals to come.