“BAWDY BUT BRITISH!” Enjoy a celebration of the unique Douglas Byng

One of several big-selling compilations of the works of Douglas Byng

When “Doris, the Goddess of Wind” was featured by Alan Bennett in his hit play THE HABIT OF ART, it reminded audiences of one the long- lost saucy cabaret performers of an earlier time. The writer and original performer of this piece was the popular cabaret, musical and revue star Douglas Byng, usually appearing in drag as one of his gallery of characters encapsulated in song. Naughty, bawdy, saucy, camp, risqué, outrageous – Byng was all of these, and more. Which is why he retained his affectionate popularity with audiences over a career spanning six decades.

This Thursday, 16th September, The British Music Hall Society hosts an evening telling Byng’s life story, presented by Richard Norman and Keith Fawkes, which is amply illustrated with recordings of the master at work, both on film and on disc. Byng’s debonair drag appearances in revue were described by Noel Coward as “the most refined vulgarity in London”. His records of his own saucy songs sold millions, and he was Britain’s biggest cabaret star for many years in the 20s and 30s.

His full name was Douglas Coy Byng, but “Coy” was the one thing Byng was definitely not. An openly gay performer at a time when this was very much not the norm, Byng’s long career was helped by his versatility in adapting to fluctuating trends after the cabaret scene changed during and after world war two; he found a home in pantomime for thirty years, while he could still be found performing his speciality routines in his eighties.

Now unjustly forgotten, Douglas Byng deserves this celebration and also a renewed recognition as one of the pioneers of LGBT visibility, as well as being a much-loved and very entertaining “turn” for well over 60 years.

DOUGLAS BYNG is an in-person event, presented by the British Music Hall Society at the Water Rats Pub/Theatre venue in London. Find details and tickets here

Discover the progress at Walthamstow Granada’s Open Day

On Thursday July 1st you are invited to find out about the progress that is being made with the Walthamstow Granada, the only surviving theatre in the London Borough of Waltham Forest.

A couple of years ago, after a long history of neglect and decay, the historic cinema was purchased by the Council and set on a track to be brought back to life as a comedy/cabaret and mixed use entertainment space, run by the Soho Theatre, who have developed for themselves an enviable track record in mixed entertainment management.

As part of the E17 Art Trail 2021, visitors are invited to discuss the progress and prospects for this historic Grade II-listed venue.

Visitors are welcome between 5pm and 7pm at The Tramworks, Hatherley Mews, Walthamstow, E17 4QP.

Read more about the Soho Theatre’s management plans here

An Appreciation: Nicole Scherzinger In Cabaret at the Boulevard Theatre

On December 8, a sold out house at London’s intimate Boulevard Theatre enthusiastically welcomed Nicole Scherzinger who shared that this is her first venture into cabaret (following two nights in New York last month). One would never have known, such was the polish and skill both in choice and organisation of material, and the craft of her performances. It is easy to hear that hers is an accomplished voice which is not only highly versatile but also ideally suited to the rigours and subtleties of show songs.

Nicole has a natural ability to make people relax – she makes herself -and you- feel right at home from the start. Her personality shines through in authentic, warm and funny interactions with both audience and her impressive eight-piece band squeezed onto the smallish stage. Opening with a cheeky and smoky I Put A Spell On You, Nicole ran through a nicely-shaded selection of songs, from the show tunes of Sondheim (Losing My Mind/Not a Day Goes By), Lloyd Webber (Memory/Don’t Cry For Me Argentina), Paul/Pasek and Yeston (a tender recital of the haunting Unusual Way) to a soulful evocation of Prince’s Purple Rain and a brief mixed revisit to the meaty beat of the Pussycat Dolls’ Don’t Cha.

There was much fun, too, as Nicole not only gently lampooned her star status, but gave us a very funny parody of Jimmy Webb’s MacArthur Park, which pulled off the tough trick of making the audience giggle whilst simultaneously admiring her vocal power.

Finishing with a costume change and a bravura display in the very funny Show Off (from the underappreciated The Drowsy Chaperone), this was a fantastic, tight and consistently engaging show. The 75-minutes set literally flew by.

In the audience were Sir Trevor Nunn and designer John Napier as well as many more show-folk who were no doubt enjoying this sampling of her impressive musical CV and filing the memory away for potential future castings. Quieter moments were sensitively and carefully chosen and it was particularly heartwarming that Nicole dedicated her show to her “friend, acting coach and mentor” Leigh Kilton-Smith, in the audience that evening, who it turns out had worked hard together with Nicole in polishing and refining the format of the show prior to its New York dates.

As regards the intimate 150ish-capacity venue, on a night off from its debut show, the fantastic GHOST QUARTET, the recently opened Boulevard Theatre showed its versatility in being reconfigured very successfully for cabaret.

Showing a masterly command of excellently-chosen and arranged material as well as showing her delightful, playful personality, and judging by the huge appreciation and standing ovation of this audience, there is a lot more that Nicole Scherzinger could do in the cabaret sphere should she choose to.

Nicole Scherzinger played The Boulevard Theatre on December 8th and 9th