First published on 8 Mar 2013. Updated on 24 Feb 2014.
London duo EastEnd Cabaret are regulars on the Australian circuit, most recently bringing their show to the Adelaide Fringe Festival and now the Famous Spiegeltent on March 19. Here, performers Bernadette Byrne, Victor Victoria and their creative director Tom Velvick profile Melbourne’s clubs with a practiced, immaculately lined eye…
Tucked in a deep, dark corner of South Melbourne lies Bohemia, a cabaret and burlesque club that claims to cater to every taste: "the sublime to ridiculous, the base to the refined". Open from Wednesday to Sunday, Bohemia serves up tasty tapas and a cocktail or two with a serving of racy entertainment on the side. We visit the club on a Friday and watch the divine Madame Natalia hosting Cirque du Femmes. Whilst it is primarily a burlesque show – featuring both burlesque and boylesque performers – the highlight is the Madame herself, belting songs, skewering unlucky (or lucky?) men with innuendo-laden insults, and encouraging the women of the audience to open their minds to the urges of their bodies. Resident "Master of Mischief" Jack Lad tells us that Bohemia's other nights can get a lot darker and more debauched, with hints of Grand Guignol (naturalistic horror), fetish, and rather more risque cabaret.
BB: Bohemia is best for dinner and a show, darlings. Take a lover, or a whole party!
VV: And if you want the best view, make sure to request a front table, by the bar – it's so close to the stage that I almost get a nipple tassle to the face.
Part comedy, part cabaret, part variety, and lots of kidding around; the Crimson Goat is undoubtedly a unique night of entertainment for Melbourne audiences. With a handpicked mix of Australia’s best stand-up and musical comedians, the bill might also feature circus performers, magicians, puppetry, burlesque and physical comedy. Held on selected Sundays throughout the year, the Crimson Goat is the brainchild of Jack Levi and Mitchell Faircloth, stalwarts of the Australian comedy scene, who wanted to bring a flavour of the classic ’70s and ’80s “varied bill” shows to modern audiences – and the traditional format works perfectly, showcasing a very well-curated bill of variety entertainment.
BB: The Crimson Goat Cabaret Club is best for a full-blown extravaganza of a variety show, which is sure to entertain the most demanding of tastes!
VV: You never know who will be on the line-up, so keep your ear to the ground and don’t miss out.
This highly respected and renowned venue just off Chapel Street in Prahran is a veritable institution for the arts in Melbourne.
Housed in a former church, it presents a well-rounded programme of cabaret, theatre, comedy, dance and visual art. It's also a popular space for international acts (including Shirley Bassey and Coldplay) to perform, and a main hub for the Melbourne Cabaret Festival each June and the Short and Sweet Arts Festival (the latter of which features over 100 short-form works of cabaret, dance and theatre).
Chapel off Chapel features both new and established performers of the Australian cabaret scene, and seems to err towards the musical theatre side of the cabaret spectrum, although a touch of comedy is not uncommon. This venue inspires a lot of love in both performers and audiences, with lots of “locals” coming back again and again to discover new artistic offerings.
BB: Chapel off Chapel is best for discovering the best in new cabaret and musical theatre. A future star may be born right in front of you!
VV: And with so many diverse events, you are sure to find something for all the family, whether it be a class, a talk, or a show in one of their two performances spaces.
This very intimate space combines boudoir chic (think plush red velvet and ornate gold mirrors) with an excellent line-up of resident performers, guest acts and shows from Thursday to Saturday. As the name suggests, most of these are burlesque-orientated, but they range from the olde-worlde glitz and glamour of Follies Classiques to the modern, neo-burlesque of The Grind. But we are most drawn to Thursday’s “Moulin Beige” show – a vaudevillian-styled variety show featuring cabaret, circus, burlesque and everything in-between, hosted by the comical and quirky accordion-wrangler, Liz Skitch.
BB: Burlesque Bar is best for indulging your inner showgirl, and experiencing all the delights that the burlesque world has to offer.
VV: If you’re a burlesque virgin, try Saturday’s Afternoon Tease for a gentler initiation – less dirty, more flirty!
Following the successful “Cash for Kitsch” fundraising campaign, the Butterfly Club has been saved and opened the doors of its brand new location in the city in February 2013.
Known to performers the world over as Melbourne’s home of cabaret, the Butterfly Club boasts many illustrious alumni, including Tim Minchin, Sammy J & Randy, Geraldine Quinn and Eddie Perfect. They even offer a mentorship scheme to emerging cabaret artists – a very practical, useful resource for new performers. Their programming has a heavy lean towards cabaret, with forays into comedy and musical comedy. In fact, our own Melbourne debut two years ago was made in the beloved oversized-doll house that the Butterfly Club used to call home. Since finding the new premises, director Simone Pulga and his team have relocated all the kitsch, the cocktails and the curios that you loved to browse at the old site. With a brand new 80-seater theatre and the unwavering support of its patrons and performers alike, the Butterfly Club will continue to present an impressive array of internationally acclaimed shows, whilst nurturing and supporting new and local talents.
BB: The Butterfly Club is best for immersing yourself in the Melbourne cabaret scene. It is a wonderful place to be – and their cocktails are to die for!
VV: The joy of the Butterfly Club is that one night, you can experience an intimate show with a star of the international circuit, then support a burgeoning artist the next. Go, and go often!