In October, a violent incident involving iconic Soho venue Madame Jojo’s, a celebrated performance space for several decades and home to productions including House of Burlesque, The Folly Mixtures Revue and Cabaret Roulette, led to action by Westminster Council which has been condemned as “draconian” – the complete and brutally swift suspension of its licence and complete closure. Madame Jojo’s cooperated and made key staff changes approved by the council, but this was not enough to keep the venue open.

Why such fast, firm and final action against this venue when other venues with similar, often worse and more regular incidents of this nature have been allowed to stay open? Well, it might have something to do with Soho Estates’ (‘King of Soho’ Paul Raymond’s company which owns sixty acres of land in and around Soho, now owned and run by his grandaughters) plans for significant redevelopment of Walker’s Court, which were approved six months ago. With demolition already approved, it seems Madame Jojo’s fate was sealed to make way for the realisation of this depressing monstrosity. Westminster Council continues to insist it was acting purely in the interests of public safety, but many people (see links below), including myself, smell a big, greedy, gentrifying rat.

On Saturday, a horde of London cabaret community members and long-time supporters and residents of Soho came together to give legendary venue Madame Jojo’s a special send-off. Together we marched from Soho Square down Greek Street, pausing at the Soho Estates offices, before continuing on to Brewer Street, where wreaths and flowers were laid at the doors of Madame Jojo’s. A number of photographers and other members of the press accompanied us to capture the procession, and among the marchers were industry journalists – myself on behalf of 21st Century Burlesque Magazine, Franco Milazzo from This Is Cabaret, and Ben Walters from Not Television.

At this point I’m handing over to the organiser of the vigil and procession, performer Abigail O’Neill, who has shared her thoughts and experience with me. Her words are accompanied by photos, and a moving video by Gaz Twist…

Holli-Mae Johnson

“From vision to vigil, the whole process of organising the procession happened quite quickly. I had the idea on the Tuesday and by Thursday myself and Alexander Parsonage, who organised the #SaveMadameJojo’s petition, were being contacted for TV and radio interviews.

The closure of Madame Jojo’s kept playing on my mind. Primarily I was gutted that I would never be able to perform there again, that I would never be able sit in the dressing room giggling with fellow performers, and that I would never again walk down those stairs into drag queens, break dancers and burly girls all gravitating in the same space. It’s a special place and it dawned on me I probably wasn’t the only person feeling like that.

The London cabaret community gather in Soho Square Gardens before setting out on their journey to Madame Jojo's.  ©Holli-Mae Johnson/21st Century Burlesque

The London cabaret community gather in Soho Square Gardens before setting out on their journey to Madame Jojo’s. ©Holli-Mae Johnson/21st Century Burlesque

Lydia Darling (centre), other members of the London cabaret community and Soho residents and supporters gathered in Soho Square Gardens before the procession began. ©Juliet Shalam

Lydia Darling (centre), other members of the London cabaret community and Soho residents and supporters gathered in Soho Square Gardens before the procession began. ©Juliet Shalam

“I had never organised anything like this before. I think my passion and the passion of others is really what carried this through. There was little in the way of organisation; the main thing for me was to try and get as many corners of the Jojo’s and Soho community involved because I felt what happened to Jojo’s is a mirror of what’s going on throughout London, especially Soho. Then, of course, to find a coffin!

Anna Lou Larkin, Good Ness Gracious, James Lee and Katy Jones prepare to set out on the procession to Madame Jojo's. ©Juliet Shalam

Anna Lou Larkin, Good Ness Gracious, James Lee and Katy Jones prepare to set out on the procession to Madame Jojo’s. ©Juliet Shalam

Editor of This Is Cabaret Franco Milazzo and Editor of 21st Century Burlesque Magazine Holli-Mae Johnson speaking to cabaret superfans Simon Reeves and Bryanne McIntosh-Melville before the procession to Madame Jojo's. ©Paul Grace (www.paulgrace-eventphotos.co.uk)

Editor of This Is Cabaret Franco Milazzo and Editor of 21st Century Burlesque Magazine Holli-Mae Johnson speaking to cabaret superfans Simon Reeves and Bryanne McIntosh-Melville before the procession to Madame Jojo’s. ©Paul Grace (www.paulgrace-eventphotos.co.uk)

“Talking to the press was extremely nerve-wracking. I don’t see myself as a public speaker so I was quite concerned about not getting my points across clearly, or voicing the concerns of others properly. With the help of some cue cards I said all I wanted to say and to be honest I think I only looked at them once! I guess when it’s something you are passionate about you can talk about it for ages, and that’s the one thing that I have taken from this – the passion, the passion people have towards their community. That’s what this procession was built on.

The funeral coffin with protest signs, ready for the procession to Madame Jojo's.   ©Holli-Mae Johnson/21st Century Burlesque

The funeral coffin with protest signs, ready for the procession to Madame Jojo’s. ©Holli-Mae Johnson/21st Century Burlesque

Pallbearers Ed Gosling, Benjamin Louche and James Lee prepare to carry the coffin in the procession to Madame Jojo's.   ©Holli-Mae Johnson/21st Century Burlesque

Pallbearers Ed Gosling, Benjamin Louche and James Lee prepare to carry the coffin in the procession to Madame Jojo’s. ©Holli-Mae Johnson/21st Century Burlesque

The procession began in Soho Square and then through Greek Street to stop at the Soho Estates offices before continuing to Madame Jojo's. ©Juliet Shalam

The procession began in Soho Square and then through Greek Street to stop at the Soho Estates offices before continuing to Madame Jojo’s. ©Juliet Shalam

“Overall I am so pleased with how the procession went. I wish there were more members of the Jojo’s community past and present in attendance but the number of people out in their funeral finest was just amazing. I’d say we did Madame Jojo’s proud.

The procession stopped outside the Soho Estates offices on the way to Madame Jojo's.  ©Paul Grace (www.paulgrace-eventphotos.co.uk)

The procession stopped outside the Soho Estates offices on the way to Madame Jojo’s. ©Paul Grace (www.paulgrace-eventphotos.co.uk)

The London cabaret community gather with the coffin and banners across the street from Walker's Court and Madame Jojo's, with the Raymond Revue Bar neon sign above. ©Juliet Shalam

The London cabaret community gather with the coffin and banners across the street from Walker’s Court and Madame Jojo’s, with the Raymond Revue Bar neon sign above. ©Juliet Shalam

“At the beginning of the meet-up it all felt quite fun and light hearted, but as we set off down Greek Street and past Soho Estates it really felt like we had a job to do, an issue to highlight and respects to pay. There was definitely an overwhelming feeling of emotion when we got to the main entrance of Madame Jojo’s, and even though I knew it was just a prop made from Poundland flowers that morning, I felt very humbled to lay the wreath. The wreaths and the coffin acted as symbols – the death of a dear friend, the end of an era – but it was certainly real for those there.

Alexander Parsonage, Abigail O'Neill and Soho Hobo Tim Arnold stand at the doors of Madame Jojo's with wreaths and banners.  ©Paul Grace (www.paulgrace-eventphotos.co.uk)

Alexander Parsonage, Abigail O’Neill and Soho Hobo Tim Arnold stand at the doors of Madame Jojo’s with wreaths and banners. ©Paul Grace (www.paulgrace-eventphotos.co.uk)

Abigail O'Neill, Alexander Parsonage, Paul Raymond's son Howard Raymond and Soho Hobo Tim Arnold stand at the doors of Madame Jojo's with coffin and wreaths.  ©Juliet Shalam

Abigail O’Neill, Alexander Parsonage, Paul Raymond’s son Howard Raymond and Soho Hobo Tim Arnold stand at the doors of Madame Jojo’s with coffin and wreaths. ©Juliet Shalam

“Since the event I have been thinking about Soho a lot – its community, its residents, the businesses – and how they must feel being told that their home is dying, that it’s in slow decline. I think being in the thick of it and seeing all the changes going on around you is one thing, but to be told in the papers and on the streets – in processions – must be quite heartbreaking and all I can hope is that with this comes reaction! That the people will stand up and fight! That they will turn the new Soho into something equally as creative, diverse and inspiring. But with the streets as they know them being sanitised, stripped of their substance and replaced with something new and unfriendly, who knows? As The Correspondents once said: ‘Oh no, what’s happened to Soho? Where will all the reprobates go?'”

Cabaret Roulette producer Vivacity Bliss collected signatures for the #SaveMadameJojo's petition. Approximately 400 signatures were collected on the day. ©Juliet Shalam

Cabaret Roulette producer Vivacity Bliss collected signatures for the #SaveMadameJojo’s petition. Approximately 400 signatures were collected on the day. ©Juliet Shalam

Jerrica Bombhardesque holds a Save Our Soho banner aloft on Brewer Street.  ©Paul Grace (www.paulgrace-eventphotos.co.uk)

Jerrica Bombhardesque holds a Save Our Soho banner aloft on Brewer Street. ©Paul Grace (www.paulgrace-eventphotos.co.uk)

Sign the #SaveMadameJojo’s petition, now at over 7000 signatures.

Further Reading

So Long, Soho – Huffington Post
A Gentrfied Soho is Terrible News for London – Telegraph
Madame Jojo’s Demolition Approved as Part of Soho Redevelopment Plans – Guardian