Review: Sunday Cabaret at Café Koha

Sunday Cabaret at Café Koha is a delightful evening out. Hidden between the Whyndams and Noel Coward theatres, it’s a cosy, downstairs space with a friendly crowd – although this leads to visibility issues. Without a stage, you need to sit where you can and hope for the best. Unfortunately, it’s a much more suitable space for dinner-time entertainment than a full-on cabaret show, and these are acts which demand your attention.

This month’s guest was comedy singer Maya Levy. With an act including a sing-along, a rap and ‘The Unexpected Re-encounter of Pochahontas and John Smith’, Levy is an extremely likeable, crowd-friendly act for anybody and everybody. Perhaps, in particular for the social group I will refer to (at my own risk) as singletons, Levy does stray into that familiar zone of female stand ups. The content of her musical puns is in touch with everyday life, which is what makes it funny, however this also makes it feel occasionally repetitive. Her songs never seem to get off their feet and develop; they feel like neglected playdough sculptures a child began to play with but became bored with after a little while. As a result, with their ‘piddly diddly’ accompaniments, Levy’s songs seek the childish silliness we love about singer-comedians like Tim Minchin, but lack the genius of his lyrics. Her act could afford to boast Levy’s advantageous musical training over its currently simple structure which only lays bare the space for improvement.

Where Levy’s material lent itself to the social atmosphere of Café Koha, the hosts, Ismena Collective, are more the standard of cabaret we expect from a venue in the heart of the West End. Their song choices span the comedic vernacular of Goldrich and Heisler to soulful renditions of Weill. Perhaps eclectic choices but they are linked by tales of treading the boards, and the programme is well-balanced. These lesser-known tunes are instant audience favourites without reverting to done-to-death musicals. Ismena’s prima donna, Sara Cluderay, didn’t bat an eyelid at what should have been major spatial issues for a predominantly musical theatre trio. With the deft flicking of a feather boa round her shoulder, she made what there was of a stage her own, finding a lyrical charm in every character.

Equally, Mayda Narvey’s cello and Katherine Woolley’s piano accompaniments are arranged sophisticatedly, and complement the intimacy of the venue. Brashy belts and brass would be welcome interpretations of some of these numbers – especially Weill’s perhaps – but Ismena Collective has a style all its own. It showcases the bright clarity of Cluderay’s voice before any bells and whistles. Sunday Cabaret at Café Koha provides a pleasant alternative to sitting in and watching The Voice on the television – there are some excellent voices to be heard at this café.

Sunday Cabaret at Café Koha is usually held once a month and the next will be 1 July. The Ismena Collective’s next performance will be Love and Lust Cabaret at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on 23 May. Maya Levy’s next performance will be at the Open Arts Café on 24 May.

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess is currently Duty Manager of the Battersea Arts Centre and a freelance writer. She has written subtitles for major production companies and channels including the BBC, and written for publications including The Stage, Broadway Baby and One Stop Arts. She trained at Arts Educational Schools London Sixth Form and graduated with a First in English and Creative Writing from Brunel University, as well as completing a year with MGC Futures and the Soho Young Company.