Unleashed – A Carnival of Cabaret

July 21, 2013 12:19 pm

Cabaret! The theatre form of the bizarre, the no-holds-barred and the riotously funny. It’s the kind of thing you generally have to search for. It’s not advertised to the general public, and the audience are a select group of people who tend to move in entertainment or art circles. So it was no surprise that Unleashed – A Carnival of Cabaret, held all this month at Shoreditch Town Hall, wasn’t swarming with crowds. And neither was it a surprise that it was held in the basement of the old town hall, now rather aptly named The Ditch.

The Ditch is reached via some old stone stairs, all quite chipped and with rusting railings. You descend into what looks like an eerie church crypt, but once inside it’s actually quite cosy. Even though the pipes are exposed through the ceiling, and there are what look like bullet holes in the walls, there are string lights and mismatched tables with flowers and drink menus. The barman is chatty and makes you feel quite at ease in what is otherwise a strange and potentially unsettling location.

There are a number of different acts throughout the Unleashed season, including Miss Behave presenting a fun game show, the comedic Piff the Magic Dragon, the harmonious Ruby Dolls, Alp Haydar with his comedic take on Sharia law as well as a hugely diverse number of other super talented, super entertaining acts. The double bill I went to see on Saturday night started with Christopher Green as the Singing Hypnotist and ended with Marawa the Amazing. cabaret

Around twenty of us were ushered from the comfort of the bar (where I tactically swallowed a glass of white, just in case there was any audience participation – which I was hoping there wasn’t) and into a small room that was obviously once an office in the days when central heating wasn’t installed as a fireplace still stood in the corner. Blackout blinds adorned the windows and the odd creak from along the corridor made us all uncomfortable, and made me feel as though I was in an episode of Most Haunted. Two men came onto the stage (really just a little platform with a chair and an electric keyboard on), one took a seat at the keyboard and the other, in a gold suit with bare chest and dazzlingly blond hair began to sing. He sang of hypnotists and mesmerists of old, when it was a glamorous and profitable profession, he sang of the powers of the mind and how he could hypnotise us all. He was very funny, cracking a few jokes and I swung between thinking of him as playing a part and truly believing him. He did have a way of staring you right in the eye for an uncomfortably long time. Thankfully he didn’t pull anyone up on stage (only one volunteer at the end to hold some sing-along cards up). I wish I knew he wasn’t going to get anyone up on stage, because then I could have enjoyed it a bit more, being so tense with thinking he’d pluck me out of the audience (I’d tactfully chosen third row – not back, not the front, somewhere inconspicuously in between).
cabaretAfter a break and a mingle back in the bar, the twenty or so, plus a few newcomers, were taken to a new room, filled with haze and bigger than the last, but not really big enough for what we were about to witness. The second part of the show, as I already mentioned, was Marawa the Amazing. I heard of Marawa through a friend of mine who is a member of Marawa’s Majorettes (a hula troupe who have performed at various events and festivals, including at the Olympic Park in 2012) and Saturday night was the first time I’d ever seen her perform. And had I been missing out! Being a low ceilinged basement room with a large pillar in the middle, no one could have expected a trapeze swing act, but that is what we got. Starting off in a pink sparkly two piece, Marawa showed off her skills on the swing. It was obviously a difficult space to pull this off, but with a spot of light-hearted comedy, any fumbles were expertly covered up. There were various sections to the show, and between each section, a film was played of various female performers of the past, in crackled black and white film, shown with a fun and up to date soundtrack to keep us all in the mood and ready for the next part. The next part saw Marawa in a white two piece, with rara frills. She carried a skipping rope and was whipping it round, carrying out skipping trips that must have left her with many a bruise when she was learning. The room was a little too small and a few unfortunate people almost got the end of a rope in their eye a couple of times, but hey, it’s all part of the fun! We were all left stunned when Marawa came out folded herself backwards with a watermelon resting on her abdomen. One of her two assistants stepped forward with a sword and chopped the melon in two! It was heart-racing entertainment, the kind you only think exists in the realms of Victoriana. Along the sword theme, she next uncovered a rack of swords, sharp side up. She stuck apples onto each blade, then with a fierce look and thrilling music, she proceeded to walk up the line of swords, slicing each apple with the sole of her bare foot as she went. Bravo! Everyone went crazy as she reached the top then walked back down again. To calm us all down, she next came out dressed head to toe in loose robes and scarves. It was a comedic interlude that lulled us all a little until the music picked up and she whipped off the dress to reveal a skin tight leopard print outfit and high-heeled glitzy roller-skates (something of a trademark, I believe). She skated around the room a few times, before fetching out a gigantic stack of hula hoops. Here we’re reaching the finale. Starting off with just one hula hoop, then two on her arms, she showed off her unbelievable co-ordination and skill, finishing it all off with her whole torso’s length in hula hoops, all spinning at once. A giant panda on roller-skates ended it all off and heart shaped balloons were handed out to the audience who just couldn’t get enough of Marawa the Amazing. It’s not just a name, she really lives up to it.

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