Cabaret: a beginners' guide to the London scene

Fancy Chance, Best burlesque act nominee Fancy Chance, Best burlesque act nominee
Posted: Tue Jan 18 2011

Has our cabaret coverage tickled your fancy? Check out our newbies' guide to London's exciting scene

If you've read our cover feature in this week's Time Out London magazine, you'll have gathered there's more to cabaret than lounge-singing crooners. With niches ranging from retro-style burlesque to genderfuck drag queens, satirical wordsmiths to avant-garde situationists, polished character comedians to spine-stretching circus acts and gay bingo nights to ukulele play-offs, no two weeks' listings look quite the same. So where can you find the good stuff?

Your best bet for an introductory night out is one of the scene's many flagship nights. La Soirée has the highest profile and features high-calibre work, though its scale can work against the subversive intimacy of cabaret at its best. The weekly Boom Boom Club at the Bathhouse is a raucous delight while the long-running Tassel Club (at Proud Cabaret and the Bathhouse) and Wam Bam Club (Café de Paris) offer strong line-ups with plenty of glam burlesque and circus acts. For a walk on the freakier side, check out Sideshow at the Leicester Square Theatre.

For the ivory-tinkling end of things is represented at the Pheasantry on the King's Road, successor to the legendary Pizza on the Park and the most likely spot to find polished songbook performances. And there's still glamour aplenty at City supper clubs like Volupté and Proud Cabaret, which offer a range of comedy, music and burlesque shows, generally at a price. The bill at the Brickhouse, in Brick Lane, often skews towards circus. A more wallet-friendly alternative is CellarDoor, a converted former public toilet on Aldwych with many free shows, some of them corking.

The Bethnal Green Working Men's Club, cradle of the retro boom, is still home to many fun experimental nights, including the all-female Blue Stocking Society. Bistrotheque offers a range of outrageous, transgressive work, including the invaluable Under Construction series of works in progress. And the Royal Vauxhall Tavern is the bastion of queer London cabaret, including pioneering performance club night and production company Duckie. Scottee's Eat Your Heart Out night is a reliably provocative proposition too. Another exciting new development is Hot Laser, a contemporary queer performance heritage group founded by female drag queen Holestar.

The ten acts we chose for our cover feature are far from the only brilliant performers in town - we only wish we could have squeezed more in! Other names to look out for include outré satirical singers Bourgeois & Maurice, pop pasticheurs Frisky & Mannish, alt-burlesque star Fancy Chance, nimble-tongued compere Des O'Connor, ukulele doyenne Tricity Vogue, kinky dynamo Ophelia Bitz, 'chap-hop' star Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer, exquisite tranny mime performer Ryan Styles, acerbic drag queen Myra Dubois - not to mention the numerous talented burlesque, magic and circus performers out there.

We could go on. But the best way to find out is to start exploring for yourself. See you out there…