Andrew Pepper on performing House of Pepper at The Crazy Coqs

Andrew Pepper began his career nearly 20 years ago in the original West End production of Mary Poppins. He honed his music hall chops over 7 years as the pantomime Dame in Chipping Norton and, most recently, he returned from France where he played Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the debut production of the newly reopened Lido2Paris.

He now brings his extraordinary brand of cabaret to the famed Crazy Coqs for a monthly residency. We caught up with him before his may show to find out more.

Q&A with Andrew Pepper

How does it feel to be performing House of Pepper as a residency at The Crazy Coqs (Live At Zédel)?

Exciting, thrilling, sometimes stressful and entirely fitting. The Coqs is my favourite cabaret room. It’s both epic and intimate in its scale, so it’s a real treat to perform there. To get to play in it every month is the icing on the cake.

What can you tell us about the show?

Well, it takes place on a Sunday, so it has more than a whiff of the sacred about it. Think of it as cabaret communion. You may be moved, you may be touched, there may be hand-holding. The order of service includes vignettes and vamps, whipped up whimsy, manicured mashups, blistering ballads, turbocharged show tunes, a truck load of sequins, a hurricane of limbs and YOU! Throw in two world-class musicians and a revolving door of characters like the gentleman from Number 63 and the boy with the gold string vest, and you still won’t really have a clue what the show is. Best to just turn up. People keep telling me it’s like nothing they’ve ever seen and I’m not one to argue.

How has the residency been so far?

It’s been terrific. For the first two months I had guests: Ada Campe and then Elvis Lesley (aka Tracey Collins), two lunatics whom I adore. Joy, personified, the pair of them. We all did a show together in October and the dressing room was carnage; nearly lost my voice from laughing so hard. I like to mix it up though: sometimes we have guests; sometimes it’s a solo show. In April, I did a solo show and we’ll be doing that again in May. For this run, the shows have a two-act structure, meaning I can do more material (which I love coz I’m greedy like that). The last show was epic! I was in my element. I think the audience were too. Well, they all leapt to their feet at the end. But then it was 4am by that point. I may be exaggerating. Slightly.

What inspires your approach to cabaret?

Honestly, anything and everything. A month is quite a long time (between shows) so, I’m sort of open to life leading me where it wants (within reason). Last month, the singer Bobby Caldwell died and suddenly his music was all over my Instagram feed. So, one of his songs then ended up as the backdrop to a section in April’s show. A few days before, I had a bizarre train encounter. That went into the show! Earlier in the month, I was in Ireland and discovered a “happy to chat” bench which struck me as beautiful/sad, so I ended up creating a section that used the bench as a starting point, then went all over the shop and ended up in a hotel room in Soho.

To really answer your question though, I’ve worked for twenty years as a theatre actor, so it always comes back to that. I firmly believe that cabaret, done well, is theatre. My approach comes from placing everything in an emotional context. If there’s a song I want to sing, it has to really justify its inclusion and work within a very specific individual and larger context.

Your repertoire changes at each show – how do you go about curating a show?

It’s incredibly organic and instinctive and dependent on what came before and whether I have guests. The shows with guests tend to have a variety show feel: very episodic, very joyous. But when I do a solo show I’m able to create more of a sustained rhythm which allows me to go deeper and ultimately create something more theatrical.

In terms of material, there are four set pieces (one of which is an epic ten-minute finale) which for the time being will always be present; the rest is up for grabs. If a new piece doesn’t quite land like I want it to, that might mean it gets the chop; or it might undergo extensive surgery and return the following month. If I know someone coming to a show has been before, I might include a song or story they’ve not seen. Possibly. Maybe. It depends. I’m an indecisive Libra. Everything is in a state of flux. Constantly!

Andrew Pepper: House of Pepper is at Crazy Coqs (Zédel) on 16 June, 21 July and 8 September 2024