If all publicity is good publicity, this month's brand new London Festival Of Cabaret (LFOC) could not have got off to a better or more tumultuous start when it announced itself to the world earlier this year.
Aimed specifically at celebrating the American and British songbook, it was met with an immediate hailstorm of online umbrage from the wider cabaret community. Benjamin Louche, co-founder of the award-winning Lynchian-themed Double R Club, summarised the general sentiment saying "(LFOC) is the very antithesis of true cabaret. It’s like an event billing itself as The London Festival Of Circus and only putting clowns on the bill. Shameful and idiotic." Blogs were set up and Time Out editor Ben Walters weighed in with his own editorial suggesting LFOC was "planting a flag in a minefield".
Relations between the festival and community were hardly ameliorated a few days later when, in an interview with the Evening Standard, TV comedian and LFOC poster boy Alexander Armstrong seemed to dismiss the rise of London's cabaret scene over the last decade. Worse, he angered many an ecdysiast by saying “a whole load of old strippers bought themselves pompons and souped-up their sets and are calling themselves burlesque". Ouch. Cue another social media hoo-ha which was only somewhat abated when Armstrong quickly apologised via Twitter for his comments.
Thankfully, these clouds come with a few silver linings. LFOC has reacted positively, taking on board the criticism and expanding its original month-long duration. The festival will now run over five weeks and artistic director Neil Marcus is looking into widening the festival's scope by adding other cabaret genres: drag entertainer Miss Hope Springs is presenting a special show as part of LFOC. Joining Springs and Armstrong will be the likes of renowned songbirds Elaine Paige, Maria Friedman and Barb Jungr.
For their part, the wider cabaret community have come together and created the new London Cabaret Festival, a grassroots collaboration of performers which will run through the month of October before returning next May, alongside the second LFOC outing and the International Burlesque Festival run by Chaz Royal.
The London Festival of Cabaret will be celebrating the British and American songbooks from 13 October-17 November. Full information can be found on the official website.
For those looking for something more reflective of the London variety scene, the London Cabaret Festival runs throughout October. The remaining shows can be seen here.
Image provided by London Festival Of Cabaret.