This has been a controversial week in the world of London cabaret with the announcement last week of the inaugural London Cabaret Festival. It should have been a day of celebration for Cabarati London, nay world, wide. One of the greatest cities in the world raising a huge mainstream flag for a cause which is a passion for many of us? A godsend, a missive and a portend of the acceptance of cabaret into the wider artistic scene. Mais quelle horreur, ‘twas not to be.
The twitter feed appeared, the PR people rustled their press releases and some little web person somewhere clicked their mouse and the announcement was made. The line-up appearing on their website. Immediately, a sense of confusion reigned, this was not cabaret as we know and love it. This was a selection of big names in musical theatre, singing songs. A facet of cabaret, yes, but not a gin-addled host, juggler, hula hoopist or feathered ecdysiast in sight. Not even a variety show? Confusion turned to indignance turning then to anger. Not because Cabarati hate musical theatre, indeed, I am a passionate fan (and I know I share this with Mr Chris Cox, Miss Mia Merode and many others, though not Dusty Limits who has never even seen Les Mis but I digress) but because in a city where cabaret has fought derision from the mainstream, (remember the Cabariot and the following song ‘Too Cabaret’) for being too ‘end-of the pier’, too sparkly and too cruise ship, it has banded together, risen above and carved a successful niche over the last decade appearing in some of the Capital’s highest profile venues. At the same time, cabaret continues in small rooms atop pubs, basements below restaurants and a thriving community supports and protects its own, as Coco Dubois commented, ‘the people who ARE cabaret, who give their lives to it, who live it, who create the industry on a daily basis, haven’t been invited to the party’
By ignoring every single performer on the London scene, the London Festival of Cabaret (notice the awkward arrangement of those words, mes amis and maybe type a rearrangement into google!) does itself, and cabaret, a huge disservice. I can understand (sort of) the desire of the Festival to have a ‘song book’ festival, surely by any other name it would still smell as sweet? The London Festival of Musical Theatre? The London Festival of Cabaret Song? The organisers say that the festival has ‘an emphasis on celebrating the music, lyrics and interpreters of popular American and European song’ and yet the London Cabaret Scene boasts some of the best song interpreters in the world, for example Dusty Limits, Le Gateau Chocolat and dare I say, me! All have been overlooked in favour of a programme of stars from stage and TV. Last time I checked, Alexander Armstrong wasn’t a cabaret performer but a TV personality who can hold a tune.
I think a great festival is a glorious melange of big names and lesser known gems rather than a roll call of big names designed to create big revenue. London needs a cabaret festival that celebrates every fabulous facet of the glittering scene, a festival where audiences have the chance to discover new work, as well as enjoy shows by artists they know and love. Mind-reader, Alex McAleer, said ‘When I hear the words ‘London Cabaret’ I think of some of the best acts in the world. None of which are represented in this alleged festival celebrating the thriving scene!’
The Festival has received negative feedback from so many of the performers on the cabaret scene but has, so far, refused to engage with its critics although as Amelie Soleil said, ‘Their twitter feed has rebuked with “it’s an inaugural event.” However, surely an inaugural event should be as diverse as possible to generate & nurture audiences to allow for specialisation in subsequent years. It’s a castration of the scene’. Well respected cabaret performer, Mat Ricardo commented, ‘It’s insulting and ill-thought through, and their refusal to engage with the wealth of negative feedback they’re getting on social media is indicative of their “couldn’t care less” attitude to the genuine cabaret scene in London’.
Feelings are running rather high amongst the Cabarati, with one well-known tap-dancer being blocked by the London Festival of Cabaret for airing her passionate views. I chatted to one of London’s most respected hosts and Double R Club king, Mr Benjamin Louche earlier today, ‘Anything that bills itself as The London Festival Of Cabaret yet refuses to engage with, or make use of, the staggering plethora of the city’s long standing cabaret scene is willfully marginalizing itself, as well as its understanding of the genre; and is insulting those who have worked, and continue to work, so hard to keep the industry going. With its stupefying lack of variety, TLFOC is the very antithesis of true cabaret. It’s like an event billing itself as The London Festival Of Circus and only putting clowns on the bill. Shameful and idiotic.’
So from being ‘Too Cabaret’, it now appears we are ‘Not Cabaret Enough’ and in the words of hugely successful cabaret queen, Frisky of Frisky & Mannish, nobody saw that coming.