Essay: Lisa Appignanesi’s ‘The Cabaret’

What remains more or less consistent in cabaret, and allows it to be defined as a distinct form, are its structural elements: a small stage and smallish audience and an ambience of talk and smoke, where the relationship between performer and spectator is one at once of intimacy and hostility, the nodal points of participation and provocation. The cabaret performer plays directly to his audience, breaking down the illusory fourth wall of traditional theater. There is never any pretence made of an identity existing between actor and role… The performer remains a performer, no matter what he is enacting.

Writing in her book The Cabaret, Lisa Appignanesi makes one of the most thoroughgoing definitions of the genre. Rich in context and pithy in its descriptions, The Cabaret highlights the potential for political and social subversion within the form. From Schoenberg to Weil, cabaret has remained a slippery entity, collapsing together audience and actor, making each complicit in the event. Interestingly, Monk has always referred to Turtle Dreams as a cabaret piece. It is the only time she has resorted to the form and, incidentally, the only explicitly urban-inspired work in her oeuvre.

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