Type “cabaret” into your Edinburgh Fringe i-Phone app and more than 40 shows come up this year. The Pleasance, one of the four big managements, has opened a new venue, the Ghille Dhu, dedicated to it. There was even a seminar at the weekend to discuss its growth.
The term is used extremely loosely, encompassing everything from burlesque to circus acts, sometimes in the same show. The Crack, the headline entertainment at the new Assembly tent in Princes Street Gardens, runs from compere Miss Behave’s sword swallowing to a hula hoop girl.
Old favourites such as Kit and the Widow or Fascinating Aida continue to plough the satirical lyrics furrow. Smokey voiced chanteuses such as Camille O’Sullivan or Ali McGregor, and any number of less proficient wannabes equipped with little more than a red sequin dress and a pianist, attempt to channel their inner Edith, Marlene, Billy or Sally, though Tom Waits and Thom Yorke are showing signs of breaking into the Brecht/Brel hegemony. Even Alan Cumming was back to do his cabaret turn last weekend, right where he started 25 years ago.
Among the better new efforts is Sheridan Hartridge from Australia, with her weirdly named Mrs Bang character (surely that's got to go?) working the old "My band hasn't turned up" shtick and pulling it off with some charm. She looks the part and can certainy sing a bit
Better to avoid, however, a lot of so called burlesque which involves either nice girls from the Home Countes of England desperately trying (and generally failing) to show how sophisticated they are by wearing some Ann Summers lingerie in public or else girls with less to fall back on who are not much better than strippers.
But if you want something a touch closer to cabaret’s original refusal to play by the rules, the fascinating Meow Meow, also from Australia and the equally compelling Storm Large (her real name, unlike Meow’s) from America, are setting new boundaries.
Storm has as tempestuous a voice as her name suggests, though it’s more Janis Joplin than Juliette Greco. Having managed to avoid being singed by a major record label in what is already a 20 year career - though most of them have thought about it - she is able to do exactly what she wants. And what she wants is tell a little of her extraordinary life story which has enough ups and downs to win her admission to any cabaret hall of pain. With mostly her own songs, and a top-flight three piece, she brings the energy of rock’n’roll to the confessional of cabaret – or is it the other way round?
And yet even while she is belting out the songs, you sense, in her cherubic features, that she is not not quite as ballsy as she sometimes makes out. Either way, it is a heady cocktail of power and vulnerability.