June 17, 2013

Original and diverse artists find new levels

Filed under: 2013,Archive,Cabaret

Cabaret Festival 2013
Adelaide Festival Centre
Bookings at BASS 131 246
until June 22.

Bernadette Robinson
In Concert
Dunstan Playhouse
June 15.

Christine Johnston, Lisa O’Neill, Peter Nelson
Space Theatre
June 12.

This year, Adelaide’s 13th Cabaret Festival coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Festival Centre and the place is buzzing. Kate Ceberano’s program is diverse – too diverse, cabaret purists might say – but, for a second year running, she has hit the mark. The festival reached box office target at the beginning of week two and, yet again, in Adelaide’s coldest and darkest month, people of all ages and musical inclinations are going out to shows.

After an opening weekend featuring the rocket energy of Kristen Chenoweth and the distinctive phrasings of Barb Jungr, others have followed : the smoky, laid-back Cassandra Wilson with her brilliant quintet ; Cameron Goodall and Quincy Grant’s salty, poignant, 1970s sea shanty cycle, You, Me and the Bloody Sea; and the Gen-Y pop-punk satire of UK duo, Bourgeois and Maurice.

Bernadette Robinson has returned to the festival with an excellent new show. Drawing partly from the portraits of celebrated women singers featured in her widely acclaimed Songs for Nobodies, she has added new material in a concert setting.

The tributes range from Judy Garland and Patsy Cline to Billie Holiday, Maria Callas and Edith Piaf and are astonishingly convincing – not because they are near-perfect mimicry, but because Robinson, ably accompanied by pianist Paul Noonan, captures so much of the feeling and style of each.

The signature numbers are splendidly presented: Garland’s Over the Rainbow, I Go to Pieces for Patsy Cline, Strange Fruit for Billie Holiday and Non Je Ne Regrette Rien in a perhaps over-oeufed channeling of Edith Piaf. Other songs also feature – a knock-out version of Burt Bacharach’s Anyone Who had a Heart, a tribute to Maria Callas with an aria from Tosca and, for sheer fun, and further evidence of her vocal gifts – I Could have Danced all Night as imagined by Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton and Shirley Bassey. In her multiplicity, Bernadette Robinson is a singular talent.

Taking cabaret to a completely different level is RRAMP, an intriguing, meticulously managed work from theatre innovator Christine Johnston. She calls herself the Collector, her associates – percussionist Lisa O’Neill and electronica wiz Peter Nelson – are the Archivist and the Electrocrat.

Looking like a cross between Morticia Addams and Mrs Danvers with an electric guitar, Johnston in clipped speech narrates her anecdotes, observations, and gently deadpan absurdities. Beautifully illustrated with animations by Ahmarnya Price, there are tales of gallant love between chooks, her collection of tax receipts and of the vicissitudes of time, age and love. RRAMP is not just passing strange, it is touchingly familiar.

Murray Bramwell

“Original and diverse artists find new levels”, The Australian, June 18, 2013, p.13.

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