Staging Migrant Voices: Cabaret and Transnational Networks in 20th-Century Britain

Staging Migrant Voices: Cabaret and Transnational Networks in 20th-Century Britain is a research project funded by the British Academy.

The project focusses on migrant cabaret in mid-20th-century Britain and explores how numerous refugee organisations staged hundreds of cabaret performances to audiences totalling thousands. Rich in political satire, and hugely popular at the time, these performances are today all but forgotten. In a hostile wartime environment that sought to prevent refugee voices from participating in public discourses, cabaret was uniquely positioned in providing entertainment and escapism while also allowing refugees to make their political voices heard.

The project’s multilingual focus tells us how different migrant communities interacted with each other and their British contexts. It discusses the role of resistance vernaculars as well as humour, accent, and other aspects of staged migrant voices. The hybrid accents of migration paint a nuanced picture of cultural life in 20th-century Britain, engaging with a politics of belonging when stereotyped notions of nation do not always include such voices.

While migration has long been at the forefront of public debates, the voices of refugees themselves are frequently absent. But migrants have a long history of making themselves heard. Combining musicology, exile, migration and theatre studies in a chronologically and geographically focussed and multilingual manner, the project uncovers a hidden aspect of 20th-century culture that had a considerable creative output and socio-cultural reach, but that has been absent from historical investigation.

The project will result in an accessible monograph which will explore this lost history of migrant voices on stage. In addition, there will be a series of podcasts and accompanying blog posts that will disseminate the research findings to wider audiences.


Dr Florian Scheding, Senior Lecturer, Department of Music