London’s exciting nightlife has always been synonymous with setting trends and pushing boundaries while providing a colourful safe haven for the avant-garde entertainment elite. But in the past decade, a particular revival trend appears to have taken hold of the city: cabaret. The momentum for cabaret is growing ever stronger with further venues for this niche art opening up each year, catering for those who like to indulge in this particular taste.
Cabaret and its naughtier sidekick -burlesque- have been conquering the British capital slowly but surely, with more and more artists flocking to London to prove their craft on stages big and small. From low-brow to fake lashes, cabaret acts cater for a myriad of tastes in performing arts, creating intimate atmospheres in chic bars and sensational venues that can sometimes brake and mend your heart in one single stroke (or song). Born out of a rich variety of musical styles ranging from jazz to musical theatre, and always involving a good serving of political commentary and a heartfelt helping of torch songs, cabaret is open to everyone and welcomes everyone, but it can certainly mean different things to different people.
Burlesque, on the other hand, is almost exclusively light-hearted in its inception and aims to please and tease – Mae West style. Cabaret and burlesque are both considered “fringe” arts, coined thusly as they take place on the fringes of what is conventionally considered stage art, and in London they’ve steadily become flipsides of the same feather boa.
While both art forms tend to address a rather ‘grown up’ audience, it should be noted that burlesque will in almost all cases involve varying degrees of nudity, which might not be a great hit on a family holiday. Please do bear this in mind when booking a table for your party. There’s also no telling in advance which emotions might be tickled out of you during any given cabaret performance, but if you decide to enjoy a cabaret show please be prepared that children may not enjoy the crooning it as much as you might.
Cabaret, burlesque and other such variety acts tend to occur in what used to be called “dinner theatre” kind of settings. You can (but don’t necessarily have to) enjoy a meal while being entertained by world-class performers, ranging from local legends to international stage legends. You will most definitely want to enjoy some choice beverages; it’s not the kind of show where the audience just sits and watches in utter silence. All you need to decide is what your particular poison will be on any given night out.
And most elegant cabaret club in town by far is the recently opened “Crazy Coqs” club at BRASSERIE ZEDEL, located just behind Piccadilly Circus. The beautiful art deco venue will transport you far far away from London while the sophisticated acts, imported from all around the world, will give you a taste of what cabaret used to be like in his heyday. You can enjoy a meal at the exquisite brasserie before the show or enjoy coffees and cakes upstairs at the café, which brings a dollop of Paris right into the heart of London. For more information on acts and menus.
Similar in spirit but slightly less extravagant in style is the basement club at the PHEASANTRY in Chelsea. Located conveniently on Chelsea’s shopping mile, Kings Road, the Pheasantry features equally impressive cabaret acts in a somewhat more laidback atmosphere, while featuring a comprehensive menu of Italian food and wine.
The majority of the underbelly of burlesque performers in London would call VOLUPTE their spiritual home. The venue, while rather stylish, doesn’t take itself too seriously and allows for plenty of tongue-in-cheek humour, be it in the line-up of its acts or in the naming of their cocktails. Located on the borders of the West End with the City of London, Volupté attracts a variety of pundits, mostly lawyers from the nearby law courts and bankers from the city. It’s the audience that transforms Volupté from a modern-day gin joint to a class act for adults who want anything but stale entertainment.
And then there’s the outright outrageous, where all boundaries get blurred and all bets are out on what your evening might turn out to be like. MADAMA JOJO’S in Soho would be a prime example of such a venue. Nestled among sex shops, fast food outlets and media powerhouses, “Jojo” features everything from singer-songwriters to unbelievable drag acts. Simply be prepared to be surprised and get ready have a good time covered in glitter andglam.
There are several other cabaret venues in London on top of this selection, such as the flamboyant PROUD cabaret club in the City of London. The more subdued, floating BATTERSEA BARGE, docked on the River Thames in Vauxhall, all of which present and represent the different faces of this unique performing art in all its forms. All you have to do is to choose a venue, pick an act, book a table and take your date out to paint the town rouge. And all that Jazz.