The combination of Question Time and cabaret may well bring to mind some troubling images of David Dimbleby trussed up like Liza Minnelli, but until recently, has never been attempted in real life.
However, artist Talia Randall is indeed crossing those streams, and after a successful first run-out last month in Peterborough, she’s lined up a selection of journalists, activists and performers for what she describes as a “fun, rowdy, political knees-up” at Shoreditch’s Rich Mix, on Friday 22 September.
Where Peterborough’s Question Time Cabaret focused on climate change and climate justice (“we had a performer called Timberlina, a bearded drag queen, singing eco-blues songs about packaging and fatbergs” she recalls), Randall and her guests in Shoreditch will turn their eyes to ‘gentrification and the art of the East End’.
Those taking the Rich Mix stage are indeed a rich mix: from the world of journalism, there’s Guardian and London Review of Books contributor Dawn Foster and Novara Media’s Ash Sarkar; there’ll be wordsmiths of a different kind in the form of Hackney poet and debating champ Ife Grillo and fellow modern lyricist Deborah ‘Debris’ Stevenson.
Randall hosts the evening, and joins two further acts on the bill. The LipSinkers take lip-syncing to pop songs to a level beyond even the most savvy Ru Paul’s Drag Race competitor, and mental health campaigner Sanchita Islam will perform some self-described “mental music” with superstar DJ Maya Postepski.
I asked Randall (who has performed at The Roundhouse, Glastonbury, and the Edinburgh Fringe) – why gentrification?
“It’s an issue that so many of us are grappling with across the world, but East London seems to be a real focus point for a lot of people…it’s kind of a frontline for a lot of these issues.
“We’re all complicit in many ways, but we can also feel quite powerless, because we’re not quite sure where to put our campaigning energies – do we speak about it to individuals, is it a thing about government, is it landlords?
“Art can be such a joyful form of protest…I’m quite happy to have Question Time Cabaret steeped in dissent and protest, because I think that gentrification is a problem and we need to tackle it.”
Randall clearly prefers her conception of Question Time – where serious panel discussion and an inflatable puppet of ‘Michael Glove’ can happily share the stage – to the original. So what are her thoughts on the original BBC programme?
“It’s such a cultural megalith isn’t it? But I find it quite difficult to watch – there’s a lot of people saying things in a room but not necessarily listening to each other [because] there’s not a lot of outlets to express ourselves politically.
“It’s like a bottleneck and everything’s exploding!”
Question Time Cabaret comes to Rich Mix on Friday 22 September, at 8pm
Admission is £10, although some free tickets are available for those who are unwaged – email firstname.lastname@example.org for details