Burlesque & Cabaret at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

We performed at our first Fringe show in 2007 and when we look back, it’s amazing to see how much burlesque and cabaret has expanded within the festival over the last few years. From a handful of small-scale shows in basement bars to huge, upscale events in the Spiegeltent and a plethora of nightly shows in bars, clubs and theatres, burlesque and cabaret have become a firm fixture at the Fringe.

But where did it all begin? The Bongo Club Cabaret, which sadly held its last show in 2012, was one of the longest-running variety shows of the festival and a cornerstone of the Edinburgh cabaret scene. Long before ‘cabaret’ got its own listing section in the Fringe guide (a fairly recent development in 2011) the Bongo Club Cabaret played host to a multitude of guest stars, with a varying nightly cast, hosted by cabaret stars like Dusty Limits and Desmond O’Connor.

Over the last few years, other shows have popped up, helping to push cabaret as a genre into the mainstream programming of the festival. A good example is Kitty Cointreau’s UK-wide sell-out BraHaHa, which made a one-off appearance at the festival this year, having had successful full runs at the Fringe in the past. Another example is Aurora Winterborn’s Candid Cabaret, which took a year off in 2014 but has previously pushed the boundaries of cabaret and performance art with its cast of cutting-edge guest stars varying from the weird and macabre to the impressively skilled.
In recent years, The Famous Spiegeltent has incorporated cabaret into its program of shows, such as the Five-Thirty Cabaret which popped up this year, offering “a fast-paced variety show” featuring “comics, crooners and cabaret artists”.

As the 2014 Fringe draws to a close, it’s undeniably been another amazing year for the burlesque and cabaret scene at the festival. FlashBang offered a nightly dose of a unique clubbing / cabaret / variety experience at the Assembly Checkpoint. Chaz Royal’s Best of Burlesque returned this year with a full-run of “sultry striptease, cutting edge cabaret and vaudeville variety”. A host of other shows have further bolstered the position of cabaret within the Fringe arts, including Ali McGregor’s Late Nite Variety Nite Night, Lili La Scala’s Another F*cking Variety Show, Blues and Burlesque, Cabaret Nova, Cabaret Roulette, Mr B’s Chap-Hop Superstar and lastly, one that’s close to our hearts having performed in it for five years, Vive le Cabaret.

Gypsy, Viva & Des O'Connor at Vive le Cabaret.
Gypsy, Viva & Des O’Connor at Vive le Cabaret.

The ABC’s own Gypsy Charms also staged her own nightly revue at the Voodoo Rooms this year. The Illicit Thrill, described as “Edinburgh’s sexiest late night revue” combined cabaret, burlesque and striptease to create an hour-long show. Gypsy and her all-star cast invited audience members to “kick back, relax and let yourself be entertained” as they were serenaded by the strains of the devil’s music, courtesy of their house band Black Cat Bone.

With over 100 shows falling under the ‘cabaret’ umbrella lighting up the stages of Edinburgh this August, burlesque and cabaret have come a long way in the last decade or so. The underdog of the arts has slowly worked its way out of the back room bars and onto the main stage of the biggest arts festival in the world.