Fringe 2010 cabaret offerings are as colourful as ever

This article is from 2010.

A brief introduction to the colourful set of Cabaret options at this Fringe

Smoke & Mirrors, Alan Cumming and The Crack

From pared down to jazz-hands up, this year’s variety and cabaret offerings are as colourful as ever. Anna Millar meets the makers to find out why we just can’t get enough

It’s a certain man who can shimmy from club door whore to straight-talking, suited and booted Jew. For chameleon Alan Cumming, it’s all in a day’s work. While prepping for his one-man cabaret show, coming to this year’s Fringe, he would camp it up filming Burlesque with Christina Aguilera and Cher on one side of New York, before heading back, black nails, eyeliner and all, to the set of the TV drama, The Good Wife, on the other. ‘I’ve learnt in the last year that any character can be exotic,’ says Cumming with a laugh.
For a man who started life on the Fringe as a cabaret act, ‘Oh, 10,000 years ago!’, this year’s turn at the festival with I Bought A Blue Car Today, inspired by his last decade in the States, takes him back to his roots, with a mixture he describes as ‘my rambles and some nice songs’.

‘My love for cabaret – and the audiences’ love – is still there,’ says Cumming. ‘The timeless thing about cabaret is that no matter how it’s done, the razzmatazz is delivered by the person at the end of the mic. For me, there’s a confidence mirrored in that.’ No gargantuan silver sparkles or outlandish boas will be in residence in Cumming’s late-night performance; but rather a pared down set of just him, a cello player and a pianist. ‘I’ve always loved the thrill and openness of cabaret. It’s not about being a showbiz concoction, it’s about being vulnerable, provocative and hilarious. It’s a very simple structure. You have an experience and, hopefully, so do the audience.’

Certainly, a flick through this year’s festival programme proves that the Fringe-goer’s demand to be razzle-dazzled shows no signs of abating, whatever the guise. Acrobats, freaks, musicians and comics are all lined up to take part in the ‘tapas’ style pick ‘n’ mix format of cabaret shows, of which there are more than ever before.

If the recent(ish) burlesque revival gave an edgy, subversive spin to the vaudeville, talent show format, this year’s cabaret-variety jamboree promises so much more.

Having started life in fetish clubs and freakshows, former world record-holding sword-swallower and La Clique performer Miss Behave returns this year as mistress of ceremonies at The Crack, with a bold and brassy line-up boasting everything from clown and hula performers to slapstick virtuosos and award-wining comedians, including Phil Kay and Nina Conti.

‘I started life on the freakshow scene, swallowing for my supper,’ says Miss Behave with a throaty laugh. ‘But over time I knew I wanted to make it more about comedy and entertainment than freaking people out.’ It’s the public’s appetite for more than just a little slap and tickle that inspired this year’s show, she says. ‘With La Clique, we knew we had something really special – the sex, the spectacle, the skill. With The Crack it’s just about tuning that in a slightly different way; I love comedy so this year’s show is a lot about making people laugh, whether it’s a five-minute set from a live comedian or a man trying to fit into a giant balloon.’

Whether it’s singing, dancing or rib-tickling, the pull remains the same, says a Betty Boop-styled Miss Behave. ‘I think we’re out of the me, me, me culture now. We’d rather be entertained. I like that’s when it’s chaotic and real. In The Crack, there’s a mix of street performers, comedians, circus acts, clowns. The joy of variety is you can mix shit-hot safe bets with unknown genius.

‘Essentially,’ she says with a laugh, ‘I’m the conductor of chaos. It’s about entertainment for entertainment’s sake. If you have a good time and so have the audience, you’ve done your job.’ Besides, she adds, the setting does some of the work for you. ‘We just did the Latitude Festival and that was great but there’s nothing like playing in a Spiegeltent. It’s all about attention to detail – I want the thick red curtains; I love that timeless look, there’s a primal aspect, intimate to it all.’

Across at the Famous Spiegeltent, in George Square Gardens, iOTA Jones, perhaps best known for his incarnation as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, brings his own carnival glitterati with an 18+ fantasy cabaret, complete with rock’n’roll numbers, vaudevillian tap dancing and death-defying acrobats, in Smoke and Mirrors.

‘Expect an emotional rollercoaster,’ says a boa-d up Jones. ‘We didn’t want to have a show where act after act are just introduced and that’s it. I’m trying to provide entertainment and an experience that can transport the audience to a place where magic exists. I want to make people laugh and cry and I want them to walk away from our show with a sense of satisfaction and the knowledge that there’s more to this world than meets the eye.’

I Bought A Blue Car Today, Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 0131 623 3030, 13–15 Aug, midnight; The Crack, Assembly @ Princes Street Gardens, 5–29 Aug (not 16), 0131 623 3030, 9.30pm; Smoke and Mirrors, The Famous Spiegeltent, 0131 667 8940, 10–30 Aug, times vary.

Smoke and Mirrors

Alan Cumming - I Bought a Blue Car Today

Olivier and Tony Award-winning Scottish star of stage and screen, Cumming unleashes his favourite tunes, belting out celebrated hits alongside little-known gems, whilst captivating his audience with poignant anecdotes from his fantastically colourtful past. 'I Bought A Blue Car Today' is a musical journey peppered with…

The Crack

An explosive combination of stand-up, variety and side-splitting comic performance. Celebrating all that is funny, diverse and truly original in live comic entertainment. Anarchic, chaotic, and fun-filled - A sell-out smash at the E4 Comedy festival on London’s Southbank, and the climax to the Bulmer’s Comedy festival…

Smoke & Mirrors

  • 4 stars

Sydney Festival's phenomenal hit 2010, conceived in the same stiletto-heeled boudoir as 'La Clique', a troupe of carnival glitterati ignited by its wicked live band and powerful, charismatic superstar iOTA. A live concept album, a fantasy cabaret, 'Smoke & Mirrors' explodes with its dazzling array of quixotic characters…

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