There are few finer cabaret venues in London than the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (affectionately aka the RVT). There are many larger venues with better facilities but RVT has a quintessentially cosy atmosphere which belies its capacity. There's plenty of seating, a good view for everyone and its a stone's throw from Vauxhall station.
Tonight, we and everyone else at the RVT went back to 1943, somewhere behind enemy lines where Wing Commander Edwin Flay has been imprisoned in Stalag Luft 32DD under the cruel and very camp Kommandant DeVille. Forced to act as liaison to the other internees, compere Flay introduced us to his fellow prisoners, the Circus of Marvels, each of whom interpreted the spirit of the evening in their own way over the next two and a half hours (including two intervals).
Kicking off proceedings, the Kommandant's boss Frank Sanazi popped up to give us the latest news about his "Third Reich", a reminder of the last time England battled Germany and not a few belly laughs. Debutant buxom burlesque performer Duchess "Sergeant" Divine flashed a pair of self-styled "bouncing bombs" that Barnes Wallis would be proud of while Laurie Hagen, coming across as the bastard daughter of Liza Minelli and Tom Lehrer, demonstrated typical British stiff upper lip by showing off her singing and splits despite having a heavily bandaged leg.
Audacity Chutzpah is a very talented actress but her ambitious act didn't live up to the cleverness of her name while Shirley Windmill (chief prop: a rather major marrow) sang about how size mattered before finishing her song burlesquely. Female duet Peek And Boo emphatically concurred on the size issue (singing "we like big cocks") and provided the raunchiest recipe recitation we've seen for some time; Nigella Lawson can eat her heart out, perhaps with some radicchio, creme fraiche and pesto.
Top act of the night for us was magician Paul Brown. He started with an amusing sleight of hand routine, based around that most English of beverages (tea) before moving onto his piece de (French) resistance. Somehow, he poured out from the same teapot small quantities of milk, ginger beer, Pimms, lemonade and coke as well as his pet goldfish Bertie before allowing the audience to test the liquids while Bertie happily swam around in some water.
The show's fitting finale - a fine display of escapology by Flay and a raucous singalong of "We'll Meet Again" - brought proceedings to a stirring close before we wandered out into the south London night. It was a jolly good show all round and we'll be back. If you like cabaret and haven't been to RVT yet, you could do worse than to put them on the to-do list and catch one of their shows this summer.
If you're going to the Isle of Wight for Bestival this September, keep an eye out for Messrs Flay & Deville who will be running a cabaret night there.