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Variété (Berliner Cabaret #AtoZChallenge)

V (AtoZ Challenge 2019)

Cabaret is a form of variété (variety show). It offers a divers gatherings of different short acts, ranging from music, to play to acrobatic stunts.
A form of variété emerged in France, from the cabaret or pub-café which then evolved into the café-concert on one hand (variety shows offered in the open, usually in gardens and parks) and the cabaret on the other (its more engaged variation). But as a form of popular entertainment, the variety show came to be predominantly British. It was in Britain that it expressed its more interesting incarnation, spreading then all over the Western World (it was going to be known as vaudeville in America), taking its first steps as the popular London-based Victorian music hall.

The Victorian Music Hall

Music halls can be traced back to the taverns and coffee houses of 1830s London, where the British working classes came together in the rapidly growing Victorian towns and cities. Music hall offered drink and food and a series of up to a dozen ‘turns’, short performances that ranged from songs and dances, to ‘specialty’ acts like magic tricks, acrobatic stunts, juggles and the like.
The songs reflected the general fears and woes of the working classes and were based on the often dismal conditions of every day life. The humour revolved around the issues of the day – politics, poverty, work, love and marriage, even death and war. Music halls were noisy places in which to perform, since the audience chatted and ate during the performance, was encourage to join in in songs and jokes and often shouted at performers they didn’t’ deem good, even throwing object at them. It was a hard environment for a performer.
Although they started out as predominantly male places, for both performers and audience, women slowly made their way into music halls on and off the stage.

Oxford Music Hall (1875)
Oxford Music Hall (1875)

During the 1850s, proprietors started to separate their refreshment room from the auditorium as the authorities became anxious to remove alcohol from the halls, which was what up to that point had attracted much of the public, sometimes more than the show.
This opened up the possibility to  turn music halls into a sort of entertainment attractive to the middle class, who had so far considered the halls as low and vulgar. At this time music halls branched in two different directions: some moved to smaller pubs where they kept offering a smaller show around the pub tables; others moved to actual theatres, where they kept offering a variety of short numbers, but with an audience tidily seated in front of a stage. These were those that succeeded in attracting a more middle-class audience who would go out to the variety show with all the family.

In this way, music halls started to eat away at the audience of traditional theatres, that for a time feared the variety show would eventually supplant them.
It didn’t happen. Variety shows had always fed on performers coming from all walks of life, from theatre and circus and different forms of music. At the end of the 1890s, when cinema started to emerge and addressing the music hall’s traditional public, music halls were forced to chose whether to be turned into proper cinemas or become proper theatres.

The variety show originated mainly from the British music halls, where people could drink, eat and smoke while enjoying different numbers from a stage #history #theatre Click To Tweet

The variety show

If the music halls disappeared, the kind of show they had created didn’t. Variety show evolved into different kinds of performance, which had the opulent revues on the higher end and the bawdy tingentangel on the lower.

Sociologists have wonder why this form of entertainment became so popular, especially in the interwar years.
There seem to have been different reasons:

  1. Since people were strained by work starting early in the morning and ending late at night, they lacked the concentration traditional theatre with plotlines and theme required. Variety show was lighter, shorter, varied. In short, pure entertainment easy to consume.
  2. The variety show was at the same time an escape from the monotony and strain of work and the reinforcement of values created by that work: in the factory, dexterity and practical ability outweighed philosophical thought and aesthetic perception. These values had so successfully been internalised that people looked for them even when seeking entertainment. They still looked for physical prowess, whether it was by actively involving themselves in sports or passively appreciating the acrobats’ stunts in a show.
  3. The variety show was the logical consequence to the frantic life in the metropolis, with its crowd and traffic, its constant change of sights and sound, fragmented consciousness and shuttered continuity.

In many respect, the variety show was the more familiar language entertainment spoke at that time.


Victoria and Albert Museum – The Story of Music Hall
Brick Lane Music Hall – The Tradition of Music Hall
Arthur Lloyd – About Music Hall

Peter Jelavich, Berlin Cabaret. Harvard University Press, Harvard, 1993
Peter Hepple, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre. Colin Chambers, London, 2002

Berliner Cabaret - Variété - Intagram - Born in the British music halls, the variety show trieved for decades in Britain. Music halls faded out at the rise of cinema, but the mode of show they had created lived on.
Berliner Cabaret - Variété - The variety show originated mainly from the British music halls, where people could drink, eat and smoke while enjoying different numbers from a stage
Berliner Cabaret (AtoZ Challenge 2019) Variété - Born in the British music halls, the variety show trieved for decades in Britain. Music halls faded out at the rise of cinema, but the mode of show they had created lived on.


  • Kristin
    Posted April 25, 2019 at 03:14

    I think the videos are a great addition to these posts. Gives me a chance to experience what you wrote about.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 27, 2019 at 09:56

      I love both vintage photos and videos. But the videos do have more spank 😉

  • Birgit
    Posted April 29, 2019 at 13:46

    Love the old videos showcasing the gals…reminds me of Ziegfeld Follies.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 3, 2019 at 09:19

      I love old videos too. I’m lucky I’m working with a period where recording were possible.

  • Roland R Clarke
    Posted May 15, 2019 at 02:48

    Growing up in the UK, I knew of the roots of variety shows in the music hall. And vaudeville/variety shows continued on TV and there are forms even today. However, I also remember the music hall TV programme ‘The Good Old Days’ – – recreating an authentic atmosphere of the Victorian–Edwardian music hall.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 15, 2019 at 10:29

      That really sounds awesome. I have to check it out!

      Besides, the variety show is indeed still popular, though I think it was even more so whan I was a kid. Today the reality show seems to have taken over. But I still see variety-styled formats as well as cabaret even on TV, though they are rare. Besides – excuse my honesty – but it takes far less talent and skills to put up a reality show than any kind of variety show requires.

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