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Review: Ben Walters' 'Come With Me…' is 'flawless' writes Lara Clifton

[photo by Lee Butler. Ben Walters (left) and David Hoyle]

When word got around that the unsung hero of that thing we call "cabaret" was going to take his place amongst those he had been supporting and endorsing for over 5 years, the spotlight hung heavy with anticipation. What would a show presented by the person who has sat through and laid credence to more cabaret then probably anyone else in the UK be like?

Cabaret has always been the underdog. It has to be. You can’t burlesque the landed gentry if they are the only ones able to afford the entry fee. Cabaret is not theatre or live-art; it is a dingy nightclub where the drinks flow, the crowd is mixed and raucous and the person on stage encourages us all to understand that life is transient and beautiful - and we're all going to hell in a handcart. The next day you awake and are not quite sure what you dreamt and what was real and you feel happier for it.

The London and UK cabaret scene has exploded over the past 10 years and Ben Walters has played a massive part in that. His generous critiques and meditations on a previously critically ignored scene were not only welcome; they were vital. Cabaret is not a good business model as it works best in intimate (aka small) venues with a line-up offering a variety of performances. Nights such as these rely entirely on ticket sales so reviews are a necessary part of our survival.

I have to confess that my first (and probably last ever) stint as a reviewer contained a massive fail. I managed to arrive late, missing David Hoyle’s art tour and Rachel Porter’s vegetable sculptures which I am certain I would have enjoyed telling you about very much. Ben is the consummate professional and would never do this. Man, he has some big shoes.

For a chap who spends most of his time in dingy bars and nightclubs (I know because I keep bumping into him!), Ben Walters has an incredibly refined pallet. His debut into cabaret ‘Come With Me if You Want to Live’ did not in any way disappoint and was far better than it needed to be. Not only was there a stellar line-up but there was the aforementioned pre-show activity and an ‘anxiety box’ into which members of the audience could anonymously post their personal worries. This was not a show where we the audience were encouraged to sit dumbly and await entertainment.

Ben selected his lineup with the deft hand of a killer poker player – it was flawless – 3 of my favourite acts and someone I had never seen before who is now in my top 5. The venue suited the night – the foyer of the Chelsea Theatre with the bar and the stage in the same room, lending the night the right amount of informality and intimacy.

The night began with Dickie Beau, the most recent winner of The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award, doing a perfect lip-synch to a Kenneth Williams monologue. Bringing to life a previous audience (they are part of the soundtrack) along with a kind of channeling of the bygone star is stunning, refined, achingly funny and the closest most of us will ever get to meeting a ghost.

Next up was the formidably talented Eve Ferret – as if Joan Simms and Liza Minelli had a love child - mixing original songs and poetry with a chaotic charisma that beat its way on to the stage before her. She mixed gutteral humour with heartfelt reaction to the loss of so many friends in the 80s to AIDS. Her self penned poetry and songs ranged in subjects from London nightlife to the wonder of peignoirs.

The lively atmosphere present in the interval was followed through by Figs In Wigs, the non-dance dance troupe known for daft routines performed in stony faced synchronization, rehearsed to within an inch of their lives. Their fresh take on audience participation saw audience members called to the stage one at time to eat peas with a cocktail stick whilst the Figs performed around them. I think all participation should be like this - the lack of real competition paired with the conscious repetition lent the whole scene a zen-like hypnotism.
And so to the last act. A human being who has formed part of the fabric of my psyche, who came into my front room via the telly box when I was an 18 year-old goth, and made me understand that there might be other ways of looking at things. David Hoyle is David Hoyle, only more so. If you really don’t know who he is, then I’d love to tell you, but sadly, like the superfun debut of ‘Come If You Want To Live’, I seem to have run out of time at the end…

For more about Ben Walters, visit his site at nottelevision.net

Lara Clifton is an independent producer and co-founder of notorious performance night Whoopee which “redefined the cabaret and party scene in London” (Time Out, 2009). Currently her time is divided between being a permanent producer for Carnesky Productions and running hashtag with producer/director/performer Lisa Lee of Rude Grrl (LipSinkers, UnderConstruction, Mothers Ruin) a monthly night featuring guest DJs and 3-minute performance interventions. Next hashtag is this Friday at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. laraclifton.com | hashtag on Facebook | hashtag on Twitter | Review of the first hashtag on Run-Riot