Billed as a Halloween cabaret extravaganza, The Haunted Ballroom was a loose mix of disco style party and cabaret acts from renowned London based performers Black Cat Cabaret, who set up home once more in The Old Market. Originally built in 1828, The Old Market is one of Brighton’s most beautiful venues; a Grade II listed former covered marketplace that has since been a stables, a warehouse and now finally an arts venue boldly straddling the two worlds of Brighton and Hove. The Black Cat Cabaret revelled with the joy of performing in these atmospheric surroundings, working in jokes about the ghostly echoing sound of horses’ hooves to help build an eerie presence.
Most of the audience seemed completely under his spell
Our host and ‘dark Master of the house’ Dusty Limits treated us to a rendition of I Put A Spell On You, certainly a classic choice for anyone’s Halloween playlist. Whilst he may not have had the shock rock power of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins or the bewitching quality of Nina Simone, he was an enchanting ringleader nonetheless. By the time he opened the second act, most of the audience seemed completely under his spell and more than happy to knock back their drinks upon his command.
Twin & Tonic, who had greeted us at the door with vibes from The Shining cranked up to 11, opened the cabaret. Known as ‘conjoined Sisters of mercy’, this terrifying twosome quickly spooked plenty of people out with their dead eyed identical appearance alone. However, although their movements were perfectly timed with each other, their onstage pratfalls occasionally seemed a little out of sync with the accompanying recording, leaving us able to hear slaps a split second before seeing them. Perhaps this was intended to enhance the otherworldly aspects or perhaps it was simply technical gremlin mischief; either way it somewhat reduced the effectiveness of the illusion.
Lili La Scala’s sexual innuendo filled living doll was a delight. Unfortunately, as the audience were all standing, some of her physical comedy was only alluded to for those us further towards the back. Impossible to miss however, was her incredible operatic voice which filled every corner of the sizeable venue. However, her pitch perfect tunes would have persuaded even the most opera averse to smile.
Surprise of the night was Chrisalys the fire-breathing sideshow pig. My vegetarian companion was a little concerned after reading the billing, but before long everyone was clapping along to this hilariously grotesque act. In authentic sideshow fashion, Chrisalys both shocked and disturbed with a highly entertaining midnight gut-busting feast, complete with fire-breathing for afters. Watching someone trash a stage with food is always a dark pleasure, although your heart goes out to the stage manager left to scrape the spaghetti off the floor in the interval.
Undoubtedly the star of the show was the astonishing Samantha Smith, whose astonishing acts of contortion certainly put the rest of us to shame for struggling to touch our toes. Her combination of contortion and aerial lifts left the audience utterly transfixed by her sensual and mind-blowing movements. Everyone was delighted when she reappeared for a reprise in the second act.
The party was a little slow to get started, with the cabaret not starting until long after the doors had opened and, whilst the Black Cat DJs tried to get us moving in the meantime, it wasn’t until after the acts had performed and band Tankus the Henge took to the stage that the crowd had warmed up enough to let loose. Perhaps it would have been better to have a little more cabaret earlier on and save the party for those looking to get their freak until right at the end.
The Black Cat Cabaret may have had plenty of tricks up their sleeves, but the night itself was simply all treat.