Admittedly, it’s not unheard-of for such events to be put together at fairly short notice, with acts changing, being added or dropping out – that’s the nature of cabaret, after all – but with smooth compering this can come across as charmingly spontaneous. Sadly, thanks to a few technical hitches, a dodgy mic and some rather rambling links from co-hosts Fanny Knightley and Sandra Bunce, this particular show tended towards the shambolic, and at 2 ½ hours (including, to be fair, a 30 minute interval) it was far too long as well.
The new-build youth-centre aesthetic of the Seven Dials Club didn’t help matters much, and the bare-bones lighting, set and sound were very clearly a one-night-only arrangement, but still, the show itself could have been dramatically improved by a little more time spent in rehearsal and a little less onstage. Fortunately, there were cocktails to hand, and the booze certainly contributed to the large and appreciative audience’s enjoyment of the first half – unfortunately, it went rather downhill from there. However, thanks to some outstanding acts who deserve the highest praise, much of the night was pretty entertaining, and occasionally extremely funny.
Kicking off the show was Sandra Bunce – clearly a talented dancer, as she demonstrated later on – performing a Britannia-themed striptease. Alas, her music didn’t work, making it hard to tell whether the act would have been impressive without the technical problems; but it was certainly an interesting, on-theme idea and provided a striking tableau at the end.
After Sandra came cabaret regular Ophelia Bitz, whose lovely voice and professional working of the audience set the standard; she was a hard act to follow, yet Lady Hercules, whose holographic underwear was an eye-popping delight, managed to add a new and original twist to her burlesque, posing as a muscled he-man who just needs to discover his inner woman.
But it was Mrs. Penworthy, a grey-haired Middle England pensioner who’s also “dope on the mic” who completely stole the show, and was certainly the highlight of my evening. Spitting rhymes like a pro, she gave us an insight into the problems of stress incontinence with “All the Ladies/TenaLadies”, followed by a completely filthy rap about the jam competition at a village fete, and ended on a triumphant reworking of Eminem’s 8 Mile anthem “One Shot”– the shot in this case being the crucial tie-breaker at an over-50s bowls tournament. Move over Snoop Dogg: I could have listened to Mrs. Penworthy all night.
To close the first half there was a fun and imaginative street-dance/Morris-dance mashup from Sandra Bunce and her girls – this was a clever, well-executed concept and a great way to send us off to the bar – and, had I stayed there with my companion, this might well have been a four-star night.
I’ll pass swiftly over the second act, which included an excruciating 20-minute raffle draw, two tenuous Royal-themed turns (Kate Middleton in a wedding dress pining for William, the Queen snorting powdered bling to “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”) and Fanny Knightley’s weirdly unfunny filthy sea-shanty singalong; there wasn’t much to see here. The best turns in Part Two were an Asian drag-king dressed as Prince, who not only looked the part but sang with attitude and style, and a surprisingly haunting performance-art oddity in which a woman slowly made her way out of a giant paper bag to the strains of a love song. But by the final singalong at 11pm (the show began at 8.30) I was flagging badly, and half of the rest of the audience had left: whether to catch trains or last orders, I don’t know, but even in the easy-going cabaret world, that’s not a great sign.
I’m sure the Bluestockings can and will do better: they can obviously attract some great acts, and have the enthusiasm and drive to start a regular event like this in the first place; hence this mixed-bag Jubilee edition may well have been a blip in a usually professional and highly entertaining night. Let’s put it this way, though: based on the show I saw, I’d watch another one – but only with a few drinks in me and the option to leave at the interval.