News: Alexander Armstrong in Cabaret Controversy

Alexander Armstrong appears to have put his foot in it with his comments in the Evening Standard yesterday (July 3) about the return of cabaret and the revival of interest in burlesque. Armstrong was speaking to promote the London Festival of Cabaret which he is taking part in this autumn – singing, rather than telling gags. He has already had a bash at serious singing onstage with a short run at the Hippodrome earlier this year.

The former chorister was quoted in the Standard as saying “I’m convinced that cabaret is set to return. People said it about burlesque and they weren’t wrong. A whole load of old strippers bought themselves pompons and souped-up their sets and are calling themselves burlesque.”

If you know Armstrong you'll know that no offence was meant to the burlesque community but it didn't stop the Comments section at the bottom of the story soon filling up. Mia Merode said: "How dare you be so insulting towards an art form you have absolutely no clue about? I can't even begin to put into words how offended I am by this statement: it is naive, deliberately provocative and completely, utterly wrong. Burlesque is an element of cabaret, appearing in many cabaret shows and is a hugely varied art form. I am disgusted by this narrow-minded, ugly viewpoint you have taken."

Others also took umbrage at the Pointless star's suggestion that cabaret was only just about to come back. This forthcoming festival, which also features the likes of theatreland favourites Maria Friedman and Janie Dee, has already been criticised for focussing on the more MOR/mainstream side of cabaret and not acknowledging the more underground/transgressive side of the genre that has been thriving in London in recent years.

CH2013 wrote: "You do the countless cabaret performers a disservice by being entirely unaware of the field you wish to enter. "Cabaret is set to return"? When did it disappear? "Become huge", "go mainstream"? No. You say "return". As if what is going on now doesn't matter. Yet you want to be part of it? And be there to bring it back, right? Hubris. Not only that, but a snide comment about burlesque performers, too? Wow. Stay classy, Armstrong."

E Norrie also vented his/her spleen on the Standard's website having a pop at both Armstrong and the forthcoming Festival: "Cabaret is set for a revival? Old strippers with pom poms? I'll tell you what, Mr Armstrong and everyone else involved with this farcical London Festival of One-Tiny-Facet-of-Cabaret-Featuring-White-Middle-Aged-West-End-Performers, why don't you come taste the exciting, vibrant and very popular offerings by this city's cabaret community before you go insulting and denigrating us?"

Walt Utz added: "Good luck with your debut.... but don't expect a warm welcome from the industry with such pretentious comments."

Armstrong later took to Twitter to respond and apologise: "Anyone who knows me will attest that it is not my style to demean and insult people. It was an off-the-cuff comment that was intended to make the interviewer laugh but it comes over as clumsy, mean-spirited & ignorant. I am truly, truly sorry to all those I have offended."

You can read the whole story here and you can read my review of Alexander Armstrong's previous cabaret performance here.