“The floors are stickier.” Host and DJ Amy Lamé opens Weekend at Wilton’s with a laconic description of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, where performance collective Duckie holds its weekly cabaret soirées. Even if most of the audience filling the tables of Wilton’s Music Hall has never been to the traditional London LGBT venue, the joke doesn’t seem to be lost on them.
Weekend at Wilton’s brings a selection of modern variety acts to the historical venue. The three-date event comprises professional speciality acts like sword swallower Miss Behave and mime Dickie Beau, as well as amateur group performances produced by Magic Me, a charity that fosters intergenerational arts projects in East London communities. Gathering as many as 20 cast members, the Magic Me segments include singing, dancing, video projection and a giant stripping puppet.
Craig The Incredible Hula Boy
Clever physical comedy and pulse-racing rhythms make double act Up and Over It an exhilarating display of tongue-in-cheek dance combining Irish jig and percussion. Contributing his signature Elvis Presley tribute number, Craig the Incredible Hula Boy runs through the king’s moves with impressive command of the hula-hoops, in a routine of accomplished showmanship and hypnotic beauty.
Drag troupe The LipSinkers draw cheers and laughter with their lip-synch parodies of pop hits by the likes of Meat Loaf and Queen. Their live re-enactment of the Bohemian Rhapsody music video, lit only by handheld flashlights, has ingenious similarities with the original, but grows weary halfway through the song because of their trite over-the-top expressions and gestures, as well as mistimed, awkward pauses in the dark.
The Bees' Knees
The more nostalgic acts in the bill fit the venue perfectly. Androgynous mezzo-soprano Jessica Walker sings After the Ball, a popular pre-war male impersonator number. Though smug and lacklustre in performance, her powerful voice makes the most of the Hall’s acoustics, dispensing with a microphone. Basking in the footlights’ glow, their shadows towering against the red curtains, flapper duo The Bee’s Knees were born to play a grand music hall like Wilton’s. The pair oozes charisma in two Charleston routines full of sprightly charm, danced to swing hits like Happy Feet. Their cheerful vintage kicks are not to be missed.
The last surviving grand music hall from the late 19th century, Wilton’s inspires awe with its history. Patrons dressing up for the show, however, miss the point entirely: music hall is working-class entertainment, joining spectators and performers in a small, intimate space. The informal side of its vaudevillian legacy is assured by two irreverent cabaret performers. Scottee interviews audience members upon entrance and between acts, reporting on pressing issues like the difference between biscuits and cakes for a live Internet broadcast hosted by OAP FM. Manning the turntables as well as hosting the event, Amy Lamé plays tracks requested via cards available on the tables, which encourage the public to include dedications to be read aloud.
Wilton’s Music Hall is closing on July 1st for structural repairs, reopening in December. But its charming Mahogany Bar will remain open. See www.wiltons.org.uk for its new opening times and find out how you can help preserve the historical venue.
Weekend at Wilton’s is a refreshing evening of light entertainment that proves the versatile range of the Duckie crew. I can think of no better use for a historical treasure of popular entertainment like Wilton’s Music Hall. Will other informal variety nights follow in the venue’s calendar, amidst its current offering of theatre, dance and classical music? One can only hope.
Weekend at Wilton’s. Produced by Duckie and Magic Me. Wilton’s Music Hall, London E1 8JB. 25-27 May, 20:30. £20. www.wiltons.org.uk
All dates for this event are sold out
About the author
Covering burlesque and cabaret is the best that C.J. could do with his English degree. After a hectic stint as the Arts Editor for Erotic Review magazine, running its performance arts coverage with a pronounced slant towards audience-abusing, tassel-twirling tempters and temptresses, he’s convinced he could have put his education to no better use.