The best of 2012: cabaret

The top five highlights of London cabaret in 2012... and one turkey

It's been a big year for cabaret in London as the scene and its performers have continued to move from strength to strength. With 2012 drawing to a close, Time Out's Cabaret Editor Ben Walters takes a look back at the most memorable cabaret and burlesque moments of the last twelve months, selecting his five favourites (and one absolute stinker).

But it's not just about us: we also want to know what you think. What were your highlights of the London cabaret scene in 2012? Do you agree with our picks? Let us know by using our comments form.

The best of cabaret in 2012

  • 1
    © Conan Whitehouse

    The mainstream invasion

    Cabaret continued its ongoing incursion into the mainstream this year. The South Bank hosted two outstanding examples: the pop-up London Wonderground site (featuring ‘Cantina’ and a host of top talent) and Antony Hegarty’s Meltdown, which boasted awesome underground performers. It was also a watershed year for cabaret at the Edinburgh Fringe with London’s finest on fantastic form.

  • 2

    The advent of classy new venues

    More signs of growth in the shape of brand new upmarket cabaret venues. Brasserie Zédel’s Crazy Coqs Cabaret, the Hippodrome’s Matcham Room, the St James Theatre’s studio and the Savoy Hotel’s Beaufort Bar (featuring compere Holly Penfield) all set up shop as classy old-school rooms with an interest in pushing boundaries.

  • 3

    The inaugration of gong shows

    This year saw the launch of both the London Cabaret Awards and the Time Out & Soho Theatre Edinburgh Cabaret Award (TO&ST) – won by New York’s Lady Rizo, coming to the Soho Theatre in February 2013 – and I was privileged to help judge both. As well as celebrating outstanding work, they’re a great pointer for audiences just discovering what’s out there.

  • 4

    The cabaret scene’s pride in itself

    This year, two collective responses to unwelcome challenges proved that even as the scene grows, its pride and humour remain robust. In May, performers rallied against an attempt by Proud Cabaret to impose restrictive employment conditions on acts; they listened and backed down. And in October, Frisky & Mannish masterminded a hilarious ‘Cabariot’ video targeting Gary Barlow’s use of ‘cabaret’ as an insult on the ‘X Factor’. Barlow got the hint, praising the video on Twitter.

  • 5

    The solidarity

    Numerous shows this year highlighted the spirit of savvy solidarity at which cabaret excels, from Penny Arcade’s brilliant ‘Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!’ to the wonderfully inventive ‘Apocalypse Gameshow’ and the full-hearted twenty-first-century cabaret of Alp Haydar and Son Of A Tutu.

The worst of cabaret in 2012

  • The cabaret room The cabaret room

    The closure of Bistrotheque

    In March, Bistrotheque in Bethnal Green knocked down its cabaret room, a vital cradle since 2004 of London’s alt-drag and experimental cabaret scene. Despite pledges that shows would continue in the renovated venue, they haven’t. While signature acts like Jonny Woo and the LipSinkers still flourish beyond its walls, London has lost a truly seminal down-and-dirty cabaret space.