We walk into darkness, handcuffed together, and are pushed roughly into our seats. Waiters with whips swinging from belts and notebooks tucked into knickers silently bring champagne cocktails whilst we look around at the den which will serve as our holding area for the next few hours.There’s a set of ‘house rules’ on the table, which my boyfriend peruses with a comic mix of amusement and terror on his face.
We won’t be allowed to leave the room without asking permission; all food must be finished; there’s a safe word – ‘red’ – in case things get, y’know, out of hand. At one point we’re led to a deliciously deep sofa, blindfolded, and told to kiss: which we don’t much mind, but the woman at the opposite table seems flustered. “I hope I don’t have to do that,” she says, and we put her down as a prude before asking why. She gestures to the man on her left: “because he’s my brother”.
This is Proud Cabaret, tucked away in the beautiful labyrinth that is the old Horse Hospital in Camden. Before entering this self-styled ‘Red Room of Pain’ we take ourselves off for a lubricating gin in one of the venue’s many bar and seating areas, which are sectioned off from one another and appropriately dim. The place is lavishly decorated, boho without coming across as tacky, all very plush and velvety. Once we actually enter the confines of the show’s main room, a single spotlight is trained on a sex swing, hanging ominously at centre-stage. ‘50 Shades of Cabaret’ begins: commère Dolores Delight enters in a cloud of smoke, sashaying across the stage and pausing to ask if there are any Cabaret virgins amongst the crowd. Very tentatively I raise my hand. “Well,” she says, “you’ll have your cherry popped tonight.”
Four acts, three breaks. First into the breach was Beau Rocks, a stunning performer who managed to convey the essential chic of burlesque, clad in red suspenders and a jauntily-angled hat. There was an enormous amount of colour in this act – feathers, lipsticks and sequins all jostled for attention. Kiki Kaboom, my personal favourite, came next. Chavtastic in hooped earrings and a tracksuit (which quickly found its way to the floor), her routine oozed sass and playfulness. Ayesha H emerged from the gloom as a kind of Amazonian firebreather whilst still (incredibly) maintaining a dangerously seductive amount of eye-contact with the audience. In between the acts, Miss Delight would offer her own commentary – interspersed with stubbing out fags on her tongue. (During one of the breaks in the ladies, I found, to my horror, the heel of my stiletto embedded in the netting of her [stunning] black lace dress. I thought I was for the paddle, but she just laughed it off. Nice woman.)
Finally, we were introduced to Bambi, bedecked with long strings of pearls. Possibly the most physically interactive of the lot, she used the audience as a bar-stool, straddling at will and making use of the room’s space to ensure eyes never once left her whilst she performed.
I was struck by how wonderfully theatrical it all was: glittery and outré and fun. I admired the cast for their seemingly indefatigable energy and vivacity, their fearlessness and, above all, for their obvious enjoyment of the show. They’ve discovered their erotic capital, and boy, do they know how to flaunt it.
The food was fantastic, with an impressively varied menu – although our ‘dominant ‘ waiter leaned over me and watched somewhat awkwardly as I finished my quail’s eggs and sea bass. Given the close proximity of performers to audience, there were moments when the sound seemed over-loud and unnecessary; for moments of banter and dialogue between audience members, it might help to have something more intimate and low-key.
I noticed beforehand a certain degree of discomfort amongst a few audience members – obviously the only remedy to this is to enter into the spirit of cabaret and keep smiling. A man at a nearby table seemed to shrink into himself very early on and could be heard muttering ‘red, red, RED’ each time a performer came close. Ninety minutes, some friendly encouragement and three shots of sambucca later I saw him strapping himself into the sex swing. Owner and founder Alex Proud should be suitably chuffed with his evening’s entertainment: a wonderfully liberal, festive atmosphere, and one which I heartily recommend.
The show can be booked online at www.ProudCabaret.com phone on 0207 482 3867 or email:
Runs every Thursday for 12 weeks.
Tickets are £39.00, which includes entry into the club afterwards.