Le Wine Club: An interview with cabaret performer Anna Lou Larkin
The worlds of wine and cabaret find a perfect meeting point at The Other Palace, where Le Wine Club will premiere on 17th February. After the cancellation of Vault Festival, the production has fortunately found an alternative home for its London run. Anna Lou Larkin is not only the host for this heady one-woman show, but takes on the role of sommelier for the night too.
Having trained at École Lecoq in Paris, she worked in French theatre before bringing her work to the UK – a regular presence at Madame Jojos and the Edinburgh Fringe. More recently, her passion for the stage has found a dignified companion, as she has started attending Wine and Spirit Education Trust courses to study the obscure and fascinating art of wine. Mingling together humour, music and a pinch of mystery, Anna proposes an evening of fun as she engages with her audience and guides them in dabbling in the mystic interpretation of a glass of red or white. We caught up with the chanteuse to talk about her two passions and how she blends them together.
Hello Anna, thank you very much for your time. Let’s start from the beginning: where does your passion for wine come from?
My dad is very into wine and when we were wee he used to like to quiz us on what we could smell in the glass. I definitely knew that Sauvignon Blanc was supposed to smell of gooseberry before I even knew what a gooseberry was. I have always enjoyed drinking wine as an adult. and I realised I could make better choices if I learned a little bit more about the different wines that are out there and what to expect from them.
What are your top three favourite wines and why?
Champagne is of course number one. It goes with everything and makes everything a celebration. Crémant is up there because I can’t always afford Champagne. And an aged Hunter Valley Semillon is one of the most unique wines I’ve ever tasted, so it definitely deserves a mention.
Now to the cabaret: when did you fall in love with the genre?
I first fell in love with cabaret at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2004, watching a show by the Whoopee Club. I was struck by the creativity and the connection with the audience (and the costumes of course!). I started performing my own work soon after a long stint of theatre touring, and the freedom and the ownership I felt in doing my own thing was like a breath of fresh air.
Who do you take inspiration from for your acts?
Musically, I have always been a big fan of the style and soul of Edith Piaf and the storytelling and passion of Jaques Brel. And the warm and smart musical comedy of Victoria Wood has always been an inspiration for all things laughter-related.
What do you feel the world of cabaret and wine share?
The main thing is they are both all about connection with other people: they start conversations and they are more fun to share, even if the audience is small. Certainly, for the best bottles of wine, the smaller the audience the better! They are also both ultimately about having fun, but there is often even more to be taken from the well-made examples if you choose.
What should we expect from Le Wine Club – how will you combine the two?
The show is a fun hour with music and storytelling and a teeny bit of magic. There is a little bit of tasting, where the audience gets to go through some of the basics of wine tasting in a lighthearted way. There is often a lot of snobbery surrounding wine, which can lead people to an “it’s all a load of rubbish!” reaction, and I want to show that it is all supposed to be fun and chilled, but that a little bit of knowledge can make drinking wine even more enjoyable.
Pairing wine with food is common, whereas in the context of theatre it more often represents a pre-show or interval accompaniment. How would you encourage more works specifically focused on art and wine meeting on the stage?
Come and see the show!
You previously worked for some years in French theatre. How do you feel theatre differs in the English language?
I think you can communicate the same things through theatre in any language, particularly in the very physical way we were working. In terms of text, I do think the French language has its own poetry that is very fun to play with, and that can inform the characters as you’re creating them.
What did you like the most about working under the direction of Michael Keane? Can you describe a highlight?
It can be difficult to know what material will land when you are making a one-person show, particularly in these last few years when it’s been harder to test out things in front of an audience. Having Michael in the room helped me see what could work and what couldn’t, and we made each other laugh a lot – sometimes in an unexpected direction.
The theatre industry is still struggling to organise longterm initiatives, as the cancellation of Vault Festival demonstrated. What piece of advice would you like to share with those starting a career in this sector now?
I would say you have to be sure you really really want to do it first. And then focus on the thing that makes you unique and how you can really sell that. I’m still learning to see myself as a business – you are always an artist first but it’s important that you do.
You are currently studying for the WSET level 4 Diploma in Wines. What’s next after that?
I’d love to take the show on tour and continue to use my increasing wine knowledge to communicate the world of wine in a lighthearted, theatrical way.