The best of 2011: cabaret moments

Time Out's cabaret editor picks his triumphs of 2011... and one turkey

As 2011 draws to a close, Time Out's Cabaret Editor Ben Walters looks back at the cabaret and burlesque moments of the last twelve months, picking out his five favourites (and one absolute stinker).

There's always room for debate of course, so let us know your favourite cabaret shows of 2011 by using our comments form.

The best of 2011...

  • 1
    Le Gateau Chocolat Le Gateau Chocolat

    The cabaret boom

    The Edinburgh Fringe making cabaret the first new section in its official programme for donkey’s years; a burlesque night at the O2 arena; the opening of the Soho Theatre Downstairs cabaret and comedy space, showcasing the likes of the Justin Vivian Bond, Caroline Nin, Jonny Woo and Bourgeois & Maurice; the plethora of cabaret performers cropping up on TV; the slew of collaborations between cabaret companies and major institutions such as the Boom Boom Club at the Old Vic Tunnels and Eat Your Heart Out at the Riverside… The underlying story here is that the talent and sensibility of the cabaret scene are gaining in visibility and credibility throughout mainstream culture. This brings its own challenges, of course, but overall it’s cause for celebration.

  • 2

    Meow Meow in Concert

    Eye-contact intimacy and conspiratorial fellow-feeling are essential to a good cabaret performance – and maintaining them in a grand-scale West End venue is hugely challenging. Hats off, then, to Meow Meow, whose June shows at the Apollo were an absolute triumph of the form. We’ve known for ages that she’s a performer of eye-watering talent and weapons-grade charisma but the successful elevation of her artfully ramshackle set of chansons to a larger scale managed at once to raise the stakes of the act’s apparent amateurism and amplify the power and poignancy of her delivery. The crowd-surfing worked a treat too. Meow Meow is more or less the definition of a hard act to follow.

  • 3

    The rise of the moving image

    As digital video technology grows ever cheaper, more sophisticated and more accessible, its potential for use in live shows is taking shape. Individual performers such as Dickie Beau and Alp Haydar have been experimenting with video's potential for opening up new imaginative dimensions within a performance space, while the clubbing visuals of Prickimage offer mindblowing tasters of what instantly responsive live digital imagery can do. Meanwhile, Ophelia Bitz’s ArtWank night celebrates sex-positive porn; David Hoyle’s astonishing film ‘Uncle David’ has picked up awards around the world; and ‘This Is Not a Dream’, a feature documentary I co-directed about performers’ use of moving image, premiered in October. Next year, we’re looking forward to ‘Hot Mess’, Holestar’s ‘Paris Is Burning’-style doc about the east London scene.

  • 4

    Rose Wood at the Box

    The opening of the London branch of the scandal-hit (or should that be scandal-baiting?) New York nightclub the Box gave the tabloids a chance to get their knickers in a twist thanks to the collision of A-list slebs and disgusting, perverted tranny shows. And the disgusting pervert tranny we have to thank for that is the brilliant Rose Wood, a performer whose defiantly uncategorisable work is explicit, messy, violent and provocative but also playful, considered, satirical and humane. It also has the pleasant effect of putting the most entitled members of the Box’s well-heeled clientele on the back foot – literally, if they’re sat too near the stage for certain acts…

  • 5
    Fancy Chance, nominated for Best burlesque performer award Fancy Chance, nominated for Best burlesque performer award

    Fancy Chance as Prince

    Because Fancy Chance makes a better Prince than Prince. That is all.

...and the worst of 2011

  • Decades - Proud Cabaret Decades - Proud Cabaret

    Decades at Proud Cabaret

    Proud Cabaret is something of a gateway venue, offering many people their first taste of the form. A shame, then, that despite its swell setting, it’s still struggling to present compelling work. Its autumn show, ‘Decades’, offers a good case study: the rotating guests, Abi Collins and Mat Ricardo, were great and there was no shortage of strong technical skills from the regulars (host Coco Dubois's voice, Jonathan Finch's acrobatics). But the show's spine – a series of decade-themed dance-burlesque numbers – failed to convince either as sauce or as anything but the glibbest period engagement. Neither accomplished technique nor high production values are to be sniffed at but the best cabaret sparkles with individual character and bristles with social and political transgression. Tits ’n’ teeth only get you so far…