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Cabaret is like a getaway car. Dickie Beau interviews Ben Walters

Hello readers. Here I am interviewing journalist, filmmaker and now cabaret producer, Ben Walters, about his upcoming quarterly cabaret night at Chelsea Theatre, Come With Me If You Want To Live, which launches on April 11 with David Hoyle, Eve Ferret, Figs in Wigs - et moi - on the bill.

DB: So, why is your new cabaret night called ‘Come With Me If You Want To Live’?
BW:
My boyfriend, Tom, came up with it from the picture that we’re using in the main promo image, which is by my friend Adrian Kinloch. It’s of a kind of derelict, liminal, run-down space on the edges of a city. And plonked in the middle is what I think is a kid’s toy, a kind of Humvee-type 4x4 vehicle – I think it’s a kid’s toy but you can’t tell ’cause there’s nothing to show scale. And it’s in these fun, slightly femme colours, a neon drag kind of palette. And I instantly thought, ‘That’s like what my idea of cabaret is: a little vehicle that is like a getaway car.’ We’re in this landscape of drab, depressing, inhumane desolation and there’s this little thing and it’s a bit silly and a bit camp but actually quite robust, and it might actually be your best bet for getting out of this mess. And I showed this picture to Tom and asked him what was the first thing that came into his mind. And he said: ‘Come with me if you want to live.’

DB: You paint quite a vivid picture of what constitutes cabaret. Tell me more.
BW:
I think that the crux of cabaret, for me, is that it’s happening live, with everyone who’s in that space – that the audience has agency, there’s a sort of responsivity, a kind of feedback, an eye-contact engagement. It stands for me in contrast to fourth-wall theatre or other types of performance where it doesn’t really matter if an audience is there; it might matter commercially, or to gratify a performer’s ego, but it doesn’t really add anything having an audience there. Cabaret is different: it really comes alive with the audience. It’s a collaboration rather than a transaction.

DB: I think I play a bit with the idea of being “in the room” in the lip-synch of Kenneth Williams that I’ll be doing. Because you can hear the audience on the audio track, it brings you back in the room or draws attention to the room in a way that is weird. I think that act works better in a cabaret setting than in a fourth-wall theatre setting – I’ve done it in both – and there’s more of a doppelgänger-ish thing going on with cabaret audiences.
BW:
Your work sort of straddles things a bit. There’s a certain element where it doesn’t play into that collaborative give-take thing because you can’t change it: it’s on train tracks. It’s completely wedded to the micro-second timing of the audio. The other side is that what it does completely have is the eye-contact thing, and the material you’ve shaped is very much about Kenneth getting his listeners on side, and he checks in with them. And because of the way it’s performed, the audience does then feel “in the room”, and does certainly feel that the performer on stage cares that this is going well and cares what they think. Even though it’s on those train tracks, there’s no fourth wall.

DB: Is ‘Come With Me…’ your first production as a cabaret producer?
BW:
Yes, I think that’s fair to say. I’ve been doing ‘BURN’ for three or four years [‘BURN’ is Ben’s series of nights devoted to showcasing cabaret performers’ work in the moving image - next on, Sun 6 April at the Hackney Attic], so that has involved some elements of cabaret production. But this will be the first night of all-live performance, with so many performers all doing their thing.

DB: Who are all the performers and what kind of thing can we expect?
BW:
There’s four acts. Yourself, of course, David Hoyle, Eve Ferret and Figs in Wigs. One of the things I’m excited about is that each of the performers is their own special creation.

DB: I’ve never seen Eve Ferret. Can you describe her?
BW:
I don’t know if it’s possible! The short answer is she’s a wonderful, very eccentric, very talented singer. With some performers you immediately know what you like about them and what you think is really interesting about them, whereas with Eve I knew how much I liked her but it’s a bit trickier to articulate. I think the main thing is that she’s just such a natural performer, although until a couple of years ago she hadn’t performed for a long time, not for about twenty years. She’d started at the Blitz club in the 80s, which of course now has a sort of legendary status. And there were various escapades, like she once had a piano fall on her… but she still finished the number! That kind of thing.


David Hoyle, of course, is just a force of nature and possibly a genius. When the whole producing thing came up, I very much kept in mind that great line of his: “I’m not here to entertain you but a good time is guaranteed for all.” By that I think he means that a good show isn’t about escapism but giving you a new and better way of looking at the world we actually live in.


And Figs in Wigs will be doing a number involving peas, which is very much a group number and includes lots of audience involvement. It has a kind of competitive edge to it, which is quite fun. It’s always nice to have a winner in performance, isn’t it? [Ben’s emphasis here clearly being a reference to your correspondent as a multi-award winning performer, most recently winning the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award 2014, and previously winning Best Alternative Performer in the London Cabaret Awards 2012, not that he's one to brag.]

DB: Totes. Speaking of competition, sounds like I’ve got some tough acts to follow here, assuming I’m the headliner.
BW:
Actually, I was planning to put you on first.

DB: Oh. Is that the word count already? We’d better leave it there.

End of interview.

Come With Me If You Want To Live is at Chelsea Theatre at 9pm on Friday April 11. Tickets £8/£4 concs. Book at chelseatheatre.org.uk