Interview: Curiosity Cabaret's Dr Clive Selwyn

Curiosity Cabaret

Is it science? Is it comedy? It’s probably a bit of both. If you want something different try the Curiosity Cabaret which runs from Dec 2 - 7 at the Old Operating Theatre near London Bridge. This new show is hosted by Clive Selwyn, a real-life doctor who will be introducing various exotic acts and a talk from Dr Anna Maerker, Senior Lecturer at King's College London, during an evening that will have the theme of The Voice - nothing to do with and swivelling chairs though. BTJ asked Dr Selwyn to tell us more…

“This is the first history of medicine cabaret that has ever been done and the first science cabaret I’ve done. I’ve been running cabarets for about four years under another thing I do called Dr Clive’s Circus. But this is different project and a different show. I wanted to do something that had much more of a foundation in science, I’m trying to merge my two passions of science and circus.

Will it be funny? “Yes, I love comedy. I’ve done a fair amount of clowning with Dr Brown. I like the old school medical revues with their bawdy comedies. I love that kind of style and I’m trying to inject a bit of that into the show.  I’m the bridge between science and the arts. I’ve got a few other clown-based people too, like Henry Maynard, a puppeteer and clown and Desmond O’Connor and Zoie Kennedy from Twice Shy Theatre, whose work is very dark, cerebral and funny."

"And then there is also Bendini. He is going to be a kind of sideshow circus act and playing a Victorian medicine man. He is going to be selling tonics and medications that strengthen the voice. He represents the quacks, selling a load of old nonsense, a snake oil salesman. He’s also going to be doing some sword-swallowing and has made all the tonics himself."

The venue sounds interesting? “We are collaborating with The Abandoned Apothecary, a pop-up supper club who do cocktails and will be creating bespoke cocktails thatCuriosity Cabaret strengthen the voice for people to sample and buy during the interval. The venue also has a herb garrett, a Victorian museum of curiosities that people can walk around. There will be performers in there who will take people around and discuss different bits and bobs.”

And what about the operating theatre itself. How did you find it and arrange access? “I’ve got some friends who are science communicators who work for the Wellcome Collection and Royal College of Physicians and through those contacts I met the curator at Barts Pathology Museum and stumbled upon this venue. As soon as we saw it we knew it was right. It’s really lovely to produce a site-specific thing, this place is so rich with history."

"They do have talks there but this is probably one of the most adventurous shows they’ve had there. I feel in reverence to the history of it. Think of it as cabaret in the style of an old Victorian medical lecture. The operating theatre used to be housed in the St Thomas’ hospital grounds but they moved it somewhere else because of the screams. There was no anaesthetic and it was mainly used for amputations. They would hack off a limb in about 30 seconds. They became experts in doing it in less than a minute. Bite on a bit of leather while they chop your arm off.”

It says on the website that this is Episode One. So more shows are planned? “Probably next year we will do some more. We can move around the body. The next may be on the history of dreams and then maybe balance."

The Curiosity Cabaret is at the Old Operating Theatre, London Bridge, SE1 from Dec 2 - 7. More info here.

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