Postcards Festival puts edginess and danger back into cabaret

Postcards 2013

Postcards 2013 - Credit: Archant

With acts inspired by Hitchcock and David Lynch, a Highgate showcase really will give audiences something to get excited about

‘We’ve been going for years, but it feels like we’ve only just started,” says Adrian Berry, artistic director of Jacksons Lane’s upcoming Postcards festival.

Cabaret has rarely enjoyed such a limelight. When music halls started to disappear in the early 20th century, so did the platform for variety performers. However, with the recent success of events like Danny Boyle’s inspired Olympic opening ceremony, the tide is turning once again.

Riding on the crest of this wave is Postcards, which brings the best of British cabaret together this month. It is a welcome homecoming – the natural scope of the scene means that performers are usually scattered across the country, performing everywhere from bars to Butlins.

“It’s always been about the individuals, not the buildings,” Berry continues. “What we do, though, is give performers time to develop inside the studio. They’re often coming from these West End places where you have about five minutes before the show starts – which is fine, that’s how you make a living – but, at some stage, you want a bit more.”

From intrigued newcomers to die-hard fans, Postcards promises to be as exciting for the audience as it is for the performers. Boasting jugglers, magicians, comedians and shows as artistic as they are entertaining, Berry says there’s something for everyone – though some nights might require a stronger stomach than others.

“We’re approaching it with a drug dealer mentality in terms of newcomers. To start with, you can try more accessible acts like Piff the Magic Dragon. If you like that, you can always try something a bit darker.

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“The Double R club, for instance, is brilliant, it’s a show all based around David Lynch. Last year, they had an impressionist who did Simpsons and Family Guy impressions, so he got the audience to close their eyes and did an entire episode of Twin Peaks in these cartoon character accents.”

Transvestite vegan

If that doesn’t sound madcap enough, other nights see Robert Jagerhorn re-enacting Hitchcock’s first silent film Number 8 through the medium of magic, while transvestite vegan Andrew O’Neill performs stand-up about the trouble of writing a show. Having refined the festival from its previous years, Berry says it is very much geared towards the summer, humorous and entertaining, but with the artistic touch of a “knowing raised eyebrow”.

Having been in the cabaret business for more than two decades, London juggler Mat Ricardo is more knowing than most. Enthusing about Postcards, he echoes Berry’s sentiments about the form’s recent revival.

“I always say this current cabaret circuit is what I’ve waited 25 years to get into. It’s something you can really tell your friends about and not just get some polite interest back. If you say last night you saw an amazing exotic singer or a man juggling bowling balls, it gets their ears up.”

Juggling a bowling ball is, in fact, the basis of Ricardo’s latest routine – a feat so extreme it actually killed juggler Paula Deluca in 1936. Naturally, Ricardo is taking steps to ensure he avoids the same fate.

“It sounds ridiculous saying this out loud, but a friend of mine is a former Miss Universe body builder, so she’s been giving me some tips. I’ve done it a couple of times by myself and I’m still alive, which is normally a good sign.”

A comedian as well as a juggler, Ricardo’s act, like all of those in Postcards, is hard to pin down. His most famous trick doesn’t even involve juggling, but sees him pull a loose tablecloth back under a loaded table, as he recently demonstrated on the Jonathan Ross show.

Inspired by seeing an “average but charismatic” street performer on a family holiday as a child, Ricardo says he and Berry have been on each other’s radars for years. With shows like Britain’s Got Talent – “probably the worst thing in the world” – threatening to devalue the art of true cabaret, they are both aware of the preconceptions many have about variety.

“There aren’t that many jugglers around,” says Ricardo, “so people’s ideas are preconceived. They come from more outdated references like kid’s entertainment or Spandexed idiots in Cirque du Soleil. A lot of tradition and styles like the strongman juggler have disappeared, so it’s up to people like me to bring them back.”

Considering television has warmed once more to unique acts like Ricardo, this summer could be a turning point for venues like Jacksons Lane. Berry is hoping any potential success will be built on the back of local support.

“When you live any town, it’s strangely easy to drop out of seeing what’s on your doorstep. This is a great chance to come back though.

“Cabaret isn’t all tits and teeth – we are about risk taking and experimentation. We want to be the variety hub of the capital, where we can take acts in, give them time to improve and send them back out across London.”

For all their experimentation, Jacksons Lane’s passion for cabaret means there is little risk of not being entertained at Postcards this June. With any luck, it could even inspire a new generation of dancers, dramatists and jugglers. Just keep a watchful eye on your next family bowling trip – little Johnny will never see that bowling ball the same way again.

Postcards Festival runs from June 13 to 29 at Jacksons Lane, 269a Archway Road. For more information, visit