The Black Cat Cabaret has long been a Soho fixture, though it’s one that has always looked as if it is straining to bust out of the confines of its small stage amid dining tables in the Café Royal. Lucky then that for four more Saturdays in August and September, the cabaret spreads its wings (quite literally in the case of costumed performer Vicky Butterfly) and fills the atmospheric Spiegeltent at the back of the London Wonderground night-garden down on the Southbank.
It’s a simple, polished show with a nonchalant nod towards Paris during the belle époque, though the styling isn’t overdone. Performed in the round, the show is elegant, free of clutter and confident in the abilities of its half-dozen acts to delight the crowd without the whole thing feeling like a drunken fancy dress party.
At the heart of it is impeccable compère-cum-director Dusty Limits, who manages to be at once suave, snooty and wistfully melancholic. He’s the kind of host who can insult and delight his audience at the same time: “If you don’t understand the classical references in the show, don’t worry — it’s the system that’s let you down.” And he carries off a torch song with just the right mix of doom and triumph.
The louche Bohemian charm is threaded throughout with a five strong chorus line — the Cabaret Rouge — re-imagining Degas’ ballerinas as coked-up prostitutes with smeared make-up and wild pas-de-chats. Other highlights include the aforementioned Vicky Butterfly who emerges like a radioactive moth intent on powering herself to the moon, a giant twinkling prop that also doubles-up as a see-saw. There are more gymnastic feats from the lupine dare-devil Jo Moss, while Jess Love and Missy Macabre take on hula hoops and fire-breathing. Then there are drinking songs, comedy mime, rope-dancing and a dirty tango — all dripping with character and fin-de-siècle French character. It’s a superior display, a bit short perhaps, but then they do say: “always leave ‘em wanting more”.