[Cabaret / Absurdist SA Premiere, South Australia]
Nexus Arts Venue, Wed 15 Mar 2023.
The laughs flow freely from the start as we are beguiled with some very savvy savoir faire into a plot worthy of Poirot. Is it the poison in the French perfume, the smoking gun in the gusset or the blade in the baguette that will do our Lulu in? Narrator, murder victim, detective and diva, the writer and performer Louise McCabe slips between the roles without the need, or indeed the time for corsets, costume or set changes. There are puns aplenty in this merry mix of genres, without falling into the trap of any one of them taking over. It’s a fun frolic of farce, melodrama, sultry songs, some tongue-in-cheek, local Aussie references, and anything else that serves the story, crammed in to create this new oeuvre all of its own. The fourth wall completely missing: the mark of truly connecting cabaret.
The messages crepe up on us, we are so busy looking for clues to who-done-it. The sentiments are clear; this is anti-war, anti-fascism – and how topical are they for today still – but without being didactic. The mystery and intrigue are rolled out at just the right pace to keep us wondering what comes next. We know the show must go on at all costs, just as the point of this type of theatre is to keep on, to go on despite the deprivation, disaster or despair surrounding us. As she says, ‘It’s not my choice,’ I must play my part to make art, and perhaps shine a dim light into the dark.
Rather than dragging out stale standards and mashing them to fit in, we are treated to a suite of fresh, original songs. A few shift into impeccable French, and McCabe is joined by Denise Boyland for several excellent duets. A tidy backing trio provide a perfect variety of instruments to complement the vibrant vocals. We learn that the core of cabaret is much more than pure entertainment; politics is always the purpose. And in Nazi-occupied France that means the stakes are as high as they get, life or death. The good spirited, light-hearted humour makes the twist in the tail all the more powerful when it turns deadly serious. Yet there are precious moments to stare our own mortality in the face before the final curtain in this confiture-packed hour. The finale delivers the ‘greatest French song ever written’ in the context of a gripping climax.
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