“I think that the times call for statements of subversion, celebration of difference and dissent more than ever”: An Interview with La Clique producer and director David Bates
A pianist at the International Jazz Festival in Edinburgh, David Bates became enamoured with the Famous Spiegeltent, producing the venue’s first Fringe participation in 1996, leading to Edinburgh Festival fame. Here he originated the festival genre of Spiegel gardens on a global scale, launching and promoting the careers of numerous artists. The world-famous Olivier Award-winning La Clique – with its novel revolutionary and unique performance style – was born soon after, becoming the widely acclaimed and overwhelming success that it is today.
We had a chance to chat with Bates about this innovative, electrifying show.
Hello David, thanks for speaking with us.
You are a jazz musician. What attracted you to cabaret?
David Bates: I am a cabaret pianist first… I’ve been playing the piano since I was 15 in theatre restaurants, bars and cabaret clubs. I am not really a legitimate jazz player… I am a child of the theatre.
Describe this new season of La Clique. How is it different?
DB: I think this new season of La Clique is still trying to push the boundaries of this performance genre. Artists who are uniquely different are hard to find these days, but this version of the show has the best people in the business… artists who are at the peak of their powers and still have a “La Clique attitude”. There is no doubt that this collection of artists comprises some of the best in the world today.
While once an alternative event for the urbane arts crowd, La Clique has gone mainstream. How has the spectacle changed and evolved into a global entertainment brand?
DB: Like all things that become popular, they become mainstream and prolific. Many of the La Clique artists of the last 15 years are now in Las Vegas on long lucrative contracts buying houses and living normal lives. Produced by people with deeper pockets. I would like to think that La Clique is still the laboratory, the testing ground and the place that discoveries are made. In fact, La Clique artists are found in mainstream shows around the world… we are still seeking the new and the different, the controversial and the “out there”.
You have said cabaret is “the new burlesque, the new variety, the new vaudeville and it’s all become a bit too sanitised” – that you want the medium to be edgy, subversive, confrontational. Is this still your primary objective for La Clique? Is it radical, revolutionary?
DB: It is very difficult to be radical and revolutionary, however… we are living in dark and dangerous times. It is like the second Weimar Age. Artists have always been the first voice of dissent… the first comment, the first hope, the first inspiration. I think that the times call for statements of subversion, celebration of difference and dissent more than ever. The world my generation thought we were building is suddenly under threat and artists are at the front line! The world has changed radically… it is much more fearful and insecure. It is experiencing a backlash and there is a danger I have never experienced.
Does what you have called the importance of “attitude” in the performance relate to this notion of subversion?
DB: I guess it has to do with the notion of self-deprecation, not being too serious and taking the piss out of one’s self. It is about laughing with the audience, not at them. It is also laughing at the genre itself. I want La Clique to be a platform of expression which is confronting but accessible.
In considering cabaret as a political device – as you have noted – is La Clique political?
DB: In so far as it celebrates diversity and difference. It is a living and breathing example of “the other”, however, when this is subtly pointed out in the show it gets the biggest reaction from the audience. We are often saying what people think and want to say themselves but they can’t or don’t know how. La Clique is a vehicle for the artists and audience to come together and celebrate taboos and push the boundaries. It is what artistic expression is all about… and it all happens in a safe environment of celebration and revelry, a more casual drinking environment where people are there to have a human interaction.
Thanks again for your time.
Photo: Craig Sugden