How Cabaret Made its London Comeback

With the launch of Proud Cabaret Embankment, it looks like cabaret is experiencing something of a revival. The Resident asks London’s biggest names in cabaret why the art form is making a comeback…

London’s good time gang were shocked when it was announced, earlier this year, that Proud Camden was to close. Alex Proud’s famous nightspot, which was founded in 2001 and hosted the likes of Amy Winehouse and Ed Sheeran, had seemed untouchable. Especially since Proud is a passionate spokesperson on the importance of protecting London’s nightlife.

It closed on 4 March, but out of the ashes was born Proud Cabaret Embankment, the UK’s biggest dinner-cabaret experience with a dining capacity of 450. The vast, decadent space combines the gilded opulence of contemporary Singapore with the smoky velveteen sensuality of 1920 Paris, and on entering you’ll immediately wish you’d opted for the sweeping ball gown.

The food and drink offering is impressive given the number of simultaneous diners. Old Fashioneds and Apple Martinis whet the appetite not just for lavish burlesque acts, aerial performers and fire eaters, but for a delicious, Asian-influenced three-course meal, too.

Has the new Proud Cabaret Embankment put cabaret back in the spotlight?

Has the new Proud Cabaret Embankment put cabaret back in the spotlight?

And with similar venues like The London Cabaret Club and Cafe de Paris both recently launching huge new shows, it looks like cabaret is experiencing something of a revival, and Londoners are lapping it up.

‘Cabaret is experiencing a huge revival in London,’ says Reuben Kaye, Maitre D at Café de Paris. ‘It’s been around for years, but now it’s booming. We’ve got mainstream theatre shows adapting it as an art form and we have huge stars like Kathleen Turner doing their own one-woman cabaret shows.

‘Cabaret, when done well, is one of the most exciting art forms we have and people keep on “re-discovering” it, even though it never really left,’ he continues. 

Cabaret is experiencing a huge revival in London. It’s been around for years, but now it’s booming

‘Cabaret is definitely experiencing a revival in London,’ adds Evelina Girling, founder of The London Cabaret Club at The Bloomsbury Ballroom. ‘While it has received slightly less attention in previous years, cabaret has returned and is growing hugely in popularity.’

But what exactly is cabaret? Typified by the combination of entertainment (usually of a somewhat risqué nature), dining and drinking, the art form found its humble beginnings in 16th century Paris.

There was no formal programme back then, more a meeting of like-minded creatives who would burst into song after a few too many wines (we can all relate, I’m sure). By 1896 there were 56 cabaret venues in Paris, spreading across Europe until it made its way to London with the opening of The Cabaret Theatre Club on Heddon Street in 1912.

So why did it fall out of favour? Did its somewhat shady, underground vibe keep the masses at bay? Or did it all just become a bit ‘variety show’?

‘I think there’s a public misconception about cabaret,’ says Kaye. ‘There is an eye roll and a snap judgement about it and people just imagine a Butlin’s red coat, but that’s not what I call cabaret.

‘Cabaret was basically punk before electric music hit. It’s sweat, fire and grit. It’s gender, politics and sex. It’s a no-rules, immersive, inclusive rollercoaster. That’s what Cabaret is, and the clichéd image of it needs to be eradicated.’

I think there’s a public misconception about cabaret. There is an eye roll and a snap judgement about it and people just imagine a Butlin’s red coat, but that’s not what I call cabaret

Alex Proud, however, wasn’t on board with my declaration that cabaret is ‘back’, which is fair enough, frankly, given he’s dedicated some 17 years to the art form since launching Proud Camden in 2001.

‘No, weirdly, I don’t think cabaret is having a moment,’ he said. ‘I think cabaret had it’s moment five or six years ago when it really reignited and became really popular. I think there’s a solid undercurrent of people who enjoy going to cabaret and will always enjoy it, whether it’s in vogue or not.

‘I think quality is in fashion, and if you produce the best then you’re always going to be successful. I’m lucky enough to have this stunning venue where 450 people can sit down and eat and watch a show, which makes it more like a Vegas theatre or a Vegas supperclub. It’s that spectacle, that scale, that glamour, that sense of literally walking into the past… that’s what sets us apart.’

So perhaps cabaret isn’t ‘back’, it’s just better. And the competition isn’t slacking. Both Café de Paris and The London Cabaret Club have launched new shows recently.

Café de Paris launched The Service in March, a theatrical, immersive burlesque and cabaret show that reflects the history of the club, from it beginnings in the roaring 20s through to the debauchery of Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday in the 50s and secret A-list parties in the 90s.  Maître d’ Reuben Kaye, seamlessly blends lavish storytelling as talented performers pour champagne while suspended high above your heads.

The London Cabaret Club, celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, has launched The Queen of Roses, which reinterprets key moments from the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II through dazzling performances. A moving scene from Romeo & Juliet is presented as a ballet, there’s a Victorian waltz, Irish dancers and a highly energetic Indian dance performance; all interspersed with aerial performances, a daring roll about on a cyr wheel and a sassy turn from a buff chap splashing about in a bathtub.

So why do we keep falling for this timeless for of entertainment? The formula, it seems is simple: ‘Cabaret’s enduring appeal is that guests can enjoy a fun evening out, where all their needs are met under one roof,’ says The London Cabaret Club’s Evelina Girling. ‘Entertainment is combined with dining and an after-party, so you can socialise, enjoy great food and be entertained simultaneously.’