Eve Ferret: Madame Bouffant plays in cabaret fortnightly downstairs at Cafe Koha, London.
Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★
The incomparable Eve Ferret, the grande dame of the Blitz Club, is back on the cabaret scene and she’s as outrageous as ever… a big pink force of nature starring in her own fortnightly residency in the basement of a Soho cafe.
And what a return! The diminutive Cafe Koha basement can barely contain the larger-than-life Ferret, whose fiery Walnut Whip bouffant practically scrapes the ceiling. Resplendent in a fuschia peignoir that appears to have a life of its own – keep her and it away from candles! – she lightens up the otherwise dingy Koha with her hilarious anecdotes and songs, accompanied by the wonderful Roddy Matthews on guitar.
Ferret is the consummate cabaret performer, eschewing the more traditional stand-and-deliver style for a varied set involving chit chat, anecdotes, poems and of course songs, many of which she has penned herself or with the help of accompanist Matthews. There’s also a lot of surreal moments: a horse’s head is paraded around on a stick, there’s audience participation in the form of Native American chanting, and expect a lot of mangetout and paper-plate flinging – answering the difficult question of how to end each act in a memorable fashion! – but you have to see this to believe it.
What comes across strongly is Ferret’s unique character, and her set lists – of which there are two, providing serious value for money at £15 – are like her Desert Island Discs. Or perhaps her psychiatrist’s-chair confessions, given the choices! It’s a joyously bizarre gallimaufry, swinging from ‘Crazy Horses’ via ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us’ to Kelis’ ‘Milkshake’.
For all her outrageousness, Ferret is a serious performer boasting a powerful voice and an incredible range. Her songwriting, too, has moments of beauty and soul-baring tenderness, along with the witty songs and seaside-postcard humour. At times, I was even hearing a Billie Holiday quality to her voice, and I was particularly moved by her self-penned ‘Don’t Change Me’, a number that deserves to become a cabaret standard.
The choice of Matthews as backing also elevates proceedings, with the flexibility and versatility of the guitar accompaniment giving the duo a range of styles beyond the limitations of the piano. The instrument also lends a gypsy-ish and informal quality to the night. There’s no questioning Matthews’ mastery of the guitar, and he turns his hand to every possible style: there’s the typical cabaret standards, but also rap, tango, pop and of course Ferret’s favourite, funk (including a fantastic take on ‘Play That Funky Music’).
The only caveat I’d offer is that the venue isn’t particularly geared up for cabaret. As much a fan of Koha as I am, cabaret fans might be distracted by the cacophonous chatter from the restaurant upstairs and the intrusively loud hand-dryers in the nearby toilets. It’s not quite the respectful Crazy Coqs environment that London cabaret-goers are used to. But again, for me it adds to the informality of the evening. When you’re being pelted by mangetout during ‘Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals’, the sound of patrons drying their hands is the last thing on your mind.
* Eve Ferret: Madame Bouffant appears again on Saturday 9 May 2015, then runs fortnightly on Fridays.