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Cabaret Confidential
The Pheasantry
18th December 2014


Jamie Anderson as the compere of Cabaret Confidential

Photography provided by Excess All Areas

There's something a bit odd about eating and being entertained at the same time. Like it or loathe it, we're a nation well-accustomed to TV dinners, but tucking into a pizza whilst someone is belting out a song live, only mere metres away? Well, that's the experience offered at The Pheasantry, which in 2010 became one of Pizza Express's special music venues. There are only three of them - the Jazz Club in Soho being the only other London one.

For me, eating whilst someone is performing in front of me feels disrespectful and a bit awkward - popcorn in a cinema is just about alright, bringing a drink into a show above a theatre pub absolutely okay - but sampling a three course meal at a cabaret night? It's a new experience. However, as host Jamie Anderson from adult panto Booty and the Biatch admits, he's "used to being upstaged by a pizza". If you're hungry for more than just art, the stars of Cabaret Confidential won't mind. Go crazy with the menu.

Among other acts, the incredibly talented Claire Hawkins and Sarah Waddle take the mike, and it's a true delight to see the pair reunited on stage, following their appearance in All Star Productions' Into the Woods. If you're a regular reader, or just a musical theatre fan, you'll know anyone who's ever treaded the boards at Ye Olde Rose and Crown is a talent to be reckoned with. There's very little chat, very little introduction - this is just Hawkins belting her way through some of her favourite Sondheims (such as Sooner or Later and Could I Leave You?), with a guest duet with Waddle to John Kander and Fred Ebb's Class. I'll be honest, taking a song out of context robs it of its full power, but Hawkins and Waddle are note-perfect, making it hard to criticise their turn together.

In terms of pure talent, there's a lot being showcased, but as a whole, it's a surprisingly tame evening. I like my cabaret to not only knock out some stunning vocals, but also be high-energy, whereas this night felt drawn out somewhat. From looking at the publicity material, I suspect there was a last minute switcharoo which knocked the compere slightly off his game, but whilst Anderson's opening number felt hurried, when he opened the second half with a song about modern dating apps, he seemed like a new man, confidently repurposing well-known songs for comedic effect. I may have been broadly aware of Grindr and how it works at the start of the night, but the end, I had a far more intimate understanding...

The generally chirpy Anderson is supported by A Girl Called Fred (Birgitta Kenyon) on keys. She's largely silent throughout, but when given her own turn in the spotlight, it turns out she has an exceptional gift for yodelling, a skill which isn't often in demand, but hey, as Hawkins explains, anything goes on the cabaret scene. A Girl Called Fred is more than just a pianist, she has a great voice and a wicked sense of humour: whether she's in the background or centre stage, she shines.

Another talented singer is Marianna Harlotta, a character created by Sarah Deeas, who is a blindsiding cross between Kate Bush (think Wuthering Heights) and Marion Deprez (think "you could just look at me and you'd be happy") with enough vocal skill, charm and general barminess to mesmorise a crowd. Aided by her "new violin-playing boy" Vladimir Chestikov on strings, she tackles "beautiful" songs like Britney Spears' Toxic and The Beatles' I Am The Walrus in her unusual but thoroughly enjoyable style.

Closing the show, Celia Delaney delivers a polished rant about starting again at 40, with assistance from Sarah Hobson on piano. She's a relative newcomer to cabaret, but seems perfectly at ease in front of the audience. Given her day job revolves around public speaking, that's largely unsurprising. Delaney gives us enough of herself to enable us to connect with her, but parodies herself too. ("A very strange thing happened - I woke up one day and found myself married and 40 and in Devon.") The obvious joking around shows that however traumatic the split was, she's come through the other side stronger and like all good performers, has milked her private life for new material. It could have been an uncomfortable set, but it was warm and funny.

There's not a lot to fault in terms of the individual performances, but as a whole, this felt more middle-class cruise ship than raucous Soho basement. Maybe Chelsea just attracts a better-behaved crowd, but the evening was - well, a bit too calm and polite for my personal tastes. If you're curious about cabaret but a little nervous about diving in, this is a gentle introduction. And it comes with dough balls too - now, that's a delicious offer if ever we heard one.

Cabaret Confidential ran on 18th December 2014 at The Pheasantry. It runs once a month, with the next planned show on 8th January 2015.

Nearest tube station: Sloane Square(Circle, District)

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