Life as a cabaret


Calum Ritchie investigates the low-budget, cross-genre revolution happening on Glasgow and Edinburgh’s cultural scenes

A strange new breed of night out has emerged recently across Edinburgh and Glasgow. There are always many performers, usually taking slots of under ten minutes, but it’s not quite cabaret: these performances tend to have low production values, often being nothing much more than a person and a microphone. Maybe a light. Typically, the audience can see between three and ten different acts in a night, usually for well under £5.

That’s not to suggest these nights are homogenous, because each one has a distinct identity. At the Arches in Glasgow, Scratch Night offers ten minute slots to theatre-makers wanting to try out new ideas for shows, while Discombobulate is primarily a performance literature night, but regularly features slots from the likes of playwright Iain Heggie, stand up comics Bruce Morton and Arnold Brown, and musician Aidan Moffatt alongside novelists like AL Kennedy and Alan Bissett. Bissett is also an occasional performer at Manifesto, the Tron Theatre’s political cabaret night, run by Tam Dean Burn; a monthly mix of theatre, music and spoken word with high tech visuals provided by Sonic Sinema. Also in Glasgow, Cryptic Nights is a celebration of the multi-artform possibilities of the CCA (this fortnight they’ve got experimental music, a discussion and a DJ set), while in Edinburgh the Traverse have thrown open their doors on Mondays, inviting new audiences in to witness emergent playwrights (Words Words Words), experimental soundscapes (Noisy Nights), and performance poets compering newly-commissioned theatre pieces, sometimes with DJs and tapdancers (Wildfire). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

‘At the Traverse, Dominic Hill came in as artistic director and wanted to make the building accessible to wider audiences,’ explains Cheryl Martin, who runs Wildfire. Martin feels that the recent boom in this sort of night is timely. ‘Funding has become hard to get, so people are just going out there and starting their own nights. You can generate new work and try out new ideas without needing loads of money upfront, and, in the current climate, that helps.’

‘There’s definitely been an upsurge in it, in the last year,’ says Dean Burn, who this month is collaborating with burlesque/comedy night Spangled Cabaret. ‘Nights where, say, groups of writers get together and read their work have always happened, but this idea of getting different art forms on the same bill seems new, up here. And as people begin to move between the different nights, we’re seeing all this valuable new material being created as well.’

Manifesto vs Spangled Cabaret, Sun 31 May, Tron Theatre, Glasgow and Mon 1 Jun, Rio Café, Glasgow.

Discombobulate, Tue 2 Jun, The Arches, Glasgow.

Cryptic Nights, Thu 4 Jun, CCA.

Noisy Nights, Mon 8 Jun & Wildfire, Mon 15 Jun both Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.


A laid-back performance night where literature and comedy collide, as established and emergent writers try out new material. Ian Macpherson hosts a line-up including Bernard MacLaverty and Ewan Morrison.


Wildfire offers writers, poets, MC's, rappers (anyone who wants to have a go) a chance to take the Traverse 10 Minute Challenge. Participants will be given a starting point and 10 minutes to come up with a completely original work.

The Manifesto

Politikal kabaret night hosted by Tam Dean Burn, featuring everything from live music to short theatre performances.

Cryptic Nights

A double celebration for Cryptic Nights: the one year anniversary and it's nearly Christmas. The first 25 people to book will be admitted to a free Cryptic Banquet (subsequent bookings will cost £5) followed by a surprise film, then live music and a DJ set from The Niallist.

Noisy Nights

The latest music Nights of the Unexpected with Red Note Ensemble, other contemporary music acts and DJs in the Traverse Bar.

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