Marcel Lucont’s Cabaret Fantastique

Marcel Lucont

Review of Marcel Lucont’s ‘Cabaret Fantastique’ in St James Studio. French comic creation Marcel Lucont and guests – one of whom was ‘deplorable’.

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“Lucont…repartee.. good, cleverly off the cuff..La Poule Plombée ..well-observed and charming..Phil Jupitus..poor workmanship, lack of self-discipline.. frankly deplorable”

Marcel Lucont (alias Alexis Dubus) is the archetypal rude, over- confident Frenchman – the cliché, thereby making fun of his own character as well as the English audience. The Cabaret Fantastique, this evening at St James Theatre Studio is a showcase both for him and various guests from time to time, and has played a number of festivals and the London Wonderground.

Tonight featured Doug Segal, Jess Love, Sarah Louise Young as La Poule Plombée and headline act Phill Jupitus as Kurt Schiffer, the Nazi submarine officer who died in 1944.

Lucont entered by encouraging his own welcome, mocking himself from the start telling us we have to enjoy him. He asks where people in the audience are from, pointing out that no-one has been to his home-town in France, which is a relief to him or it would be like Paris –‘full of piss and arrogance’. And of course, the one thing he cannot stand is arrogance!

He tells us of how he took culture to Australia, where shade does not work, making it difficult to be stylish (though not for him, naturally) and takes the opportunity to decry the dress sense of the women in the front row. His repartee with the audience is good, cleverly off the cuff and certain references even referred to later in the show.

One of the standout elements of the evening was a song he wrote about the scandal surrounding the Duchess of Cambridge’s topless photographs. His characterisation never wavered and by and large, dealt with difficult audience members with aplomb, only occasionally straying towards the over-abrasive.

His first guest Doug Segal is a magician, specialising in ‘mind reading’. He encourages audience participation and makes fun of a hapless man struggling to remember the names of chess pieces, and the act was both skilful and funny.

Next came variety artiste Jess Love armed with gold hula hoops and plenty of attitude. What she can’t do with hoops is nobody’s business – and the men especially liked her(!)

Lucont brought us back after the interval and introduced ‘compatriot’ La Poule Plombée (The Frumpy Pigeon) depressive, over –dramatic and dangerous with her carving knife. She and Edith Piaf were once great friends it seems, until Piaf did the dirty on the friendship and became a great star leaving La Poule to try her luck in such an un-cultured place as England.

This artist works the crowd well and we warm to her. Her character, whist ridiculous and heighted, is strangely believable and we want her to be happy and get well. Her song on the English and French languages borrowing words from each other is both well-observed and charming. Even though it is not Christmas, she and Lucont sing a mutually insulting song “You Put the No in Noel”.

The car crash of the evening came with Phill Jupitus. His act, done with various other dead characters before tonight, does not come with prepared songs and patter, but invites the audience to ask him questions about himself and his time and situation. On one level, this is brave as he cannot know in advance what to expect and must rely on an innate sense of wit to keep the evening entertaining.

However, this does not mean the artist should be unprepared. It is entirely predictable that audience will not always ask questions appropriate to the period, language etc, nor will they always play the game fairly. To have a good chance of success, the artist needs to be steeped in the character created, know him inside out from the time he stems from, enough about the language he speaks to be able to bring up necessary elements and make fun of it, and how he has become the person he is. Actors train like this all the time.

Schiffer could be an intriguing and amusing character to work this format with, and the act has the makings of something very entertaining. Jupitus is an imposing figure on stage, and the audience by now was well warmed up and ready to enjoy him.

As should have been anticipated, some were annoying and tinkled glasses unnecessarily to get attention. The Schiffer character became unsustained, accent and sense of period were lost and the whole act lacked the credibility and craftsmanship the previous ‘French’ characters had displayed.

He ran into real trouble with a group of women in the front, who admittedly were not playing the game as fairly as they could either, but nevertheless was a very large group who had paid good money to support the evening and wanted to be entertained. The abuse and aggression they received at the hands of Jupitus drew nervous laughter from the rest of the audience, and he only got away with it because many had been drinking and were determined to have a good time no matter what.

If Jupitus had mastered some of the tools of his trade and kept character, he could have dealt with the heckling and unnecessary noise in the appropriate manner. As it was, his put-downs were no more than an insulting rant, demonstrating a total lack of deftness and paucity of wit.

There is no excuse for this. Jupitus is hardly new to the scene, nor is this the first time he has used this format. He should be aware by now that to be truly funny, he needs to study the craft of characterisation, which would give him the weaponry he needs in the heat of a situation like the one he faced tonight. His poor workmanship, lack of self-discipline and inability to keep his temper are frankly deplorable.

It also ran considerably over-time and I saw people leaving – or perhaps they no longer found it funny.

Still, this act aside, the evening until then was in the main amusing and fun, showing the variety of work to be found at St James Studio.

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About Fiona Jane Weston

I am Fiona-Jane Weston and as well as being a performer myself (see website), I write reviews of and features on shows, mainly on the London cabaret and theatre scene. I have worked in theatre for many years, but decided to embark on a new direction in cabaret in 2009, when I produced 20th Century Woman: The Compact Cabaret. Not wanting to neglect my love of spoken word, particularly drama and verse, I made the conscious decision to include these elements in the programme, as well as wonderful songs, to tell the story of women's changing status and preoccupations throughout the 20th Century and up to now. I was invited to audition for the renowned Cabaret Conference at Yale, run by the late legendary Erv Raible, and that was thrilled to be one of only 26 accepted that year, where I was taught by the masters of the genre. Amanda McBroom (composer of the Bette Middler hit "The Rose" and the poignant "Errol Flynn"), Laurel Massé, original member of Manhattan Transfer, Sally Mayes, Tony Award nominees Sharon McNight and Tovah Feldshuh, and New York cabaret veteran Julie Wilson were all on the faculty. We were also treated to the musical direction of Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and the now late Paul Trueblood. With the benefit of their insightful teaching and great encouragement, I took my show to The Duplex in New York, where I was delighted with the response. Since then, I have produced Loving London: The Capital Cabaret, using the same format of songs, poetry and drama, in various London venues, including Leicester Square Theatre and The Crazy Coqs. 2014, the centenary of World War 1, saw the launch of Wartime Women: the Khaki Cabaret to a sellout house at St. James Theatre, London, garnering great notices, including from The Times and Musical Theatre Review. I have since been touring the show to Belgium and throughout the UK. I hope these reviews and interviews entertain and educate at the same time, and if please do leave comments in the box. It's great to engage in a conversation about the Arts. Fiona-Jane Weston
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