Richard Jordan: Cabaret in Edinburgh is going from strength to strength
A welcome addition to the Edinburgh Fringe has been the continued growth of cabaret, so much so that it has, for the past few years, had its own section in the Edinburgh Fringe brochure. A valuable art form, it is frequently neglected, rarely getting the proper acknowledgement it deserves.
Edinburgh is fast becoming a significant player in the international cabaret market, while the variety of this work at the fringe has also demonstrated the versatility of the art form. The better works that have appeared here dispel the public perception that the term ‘cabaret’ equates to musical theatre standards in late-night lounges.
There is still no shortage of enjoyable cabaret of that ilk, though one aspect that’s both impressive and evident in securing cabaret’s growing profile and popularity on the fringe is how its many artists have skilfully crafted their work to make it highly accessible to the widest and most eclectic audiences possible.
An example of this is Broadway performer Christina Bianco, returning to the fringe this year playing a large Assembly spiegeltent. Her sold-out show is a blueprint for how to provide audiences with an access point into both the work and art form. Bianco uses her widely-viewed internet impressions of great singers, establishing these prominently in the show, and also slips into her own voice with some beautiful renditions from Sondheim’s songbook.
This style is also evident on the Free Fringe where Late With Lance is an example of how to charm even the toughest of audiences. Using a chat-show format as an entry point into the work, Peter Michael Marino’s loveable comedy creation, Broadway geek and cruise ship performer Lance, suddenly finds himself with his own fringe show.
These artists have thought about how to make their work connect with newcomers and regulars
It’s evident that these artists have thought carefully about how to make their work succeed in Edinburgh by respecting the art form and connecting it both with newcomers and regular cabaret attendees. Discovery is the key word here: if this form succeeds in reaching the widest of audience demographics it can only help feed a growing cabaret and variety fringe economy. This can already be seen in a crossover of shows including Christina Bianco, Die Roten Punkte, Puddles Pity Party, Dillie Keane and Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho all playing with the cabaret form.
There has always been a place for cabaret on the fringe. Works such as the remarkable iconic late night Anonymous Society’s Jacques Brel show seen in the 1990s, comedy cabaret legends Fascinating Aida, and more recently a resurgence in both mainstream and alternative cabaret and variety thanks in part to the growth of Edinburgh’s spiegeltents through which works such as La Clique have laid the ground for many other shows. They’ve also helped introduce Edinburgh audiences to artists such as Camille O’Sullivan and La Gateau Chocolat (both back again this year with their own solo shows).
Cabaret and variety’s own designated section in the fringe brochure provides it with a visible and valuable focus. Its artists are no longer forced into the dilemma of choosing between listing themselves in the comedy, musical or theatre sections of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme, none of which, until this welcome addition happened, had ever truly represented this art form properly to fringe-going audiences.