Scene by James: Cabaret and Revolution

If There's "Not Dancing" at the Basement, then I am definitely coming

[by James Wenley]

The one and only Yana Alana
The one and only Yana Alana

What happens when two Cabaret divas have the same song on their set list? Answer: let them both do it! In a quirk of programming, both Yana Alana and Camille O’Sullivan used Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ as one of their big finishing numbers. With Aussie firecracker Yana Alana costumed only with an electric blue wig and body paint that would make a Smurf blush, it didn’t take long to work out why her show was subtitled Between the Cracks. So when she belted out “There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in” it had quite an ironic blue-tinge. When Ireland’s songbird Camille O’Sullivan began to “ring the bells” an hour and a bit later I was flooded with déjà vu, but then settled into her dark, deep and rich interpretation. Who sung it better?  One of the great debates of the night.

Auckland Live’s International Cabaret Festival, now in its second year, is a must-experience event on the theatrical calendar. If you go you are poorer for it (those tickets ain’t cheap), but if you don’t go, you are much, much poorer for it. Their voices are stunning, their choices are outrageous, and performing each night are the best of the best.

Yana Alana’s show comes with a warning: there will be nudity, strong language, and if we don’t like it, we can fuck off. This becomes the sentiment of the night as Alana, who confesses to feeling like a made up character, gets away with many a diva antic and will have you convinced that the world really does revolve around her. Her songs are clever and provocative, such as when she satirises anxieties around body image or that “sexuality ain’t your identity”. When she announces “and now for a little song about anal sex” it seems the most normal thing in the world. A force of personality matched by the force of her lungs and the force of her wit.

I want to be like Camille O'Sulivan
I want to be like Camille O’Sulivan

And then there’s Camille, who enters wearing a magic cape and keeps giving us cheeky looks and making cat noises. I am in awe, I want to be as cool her. What is so remarkable is the way she vocally shapeshifts from a sweet breathy lyric to a hard grunge rock note. There’s an “ugly” a capella Brel ‘Amsterdam’, a spellbinding version of Wait’s ‘All the World is Green’, and a painfully melancholic ‘Hurt’. She is a transcendental performer, and will take you to all kinds of wonderful places during her time on the Concert Chamber stage.

Then there is An Evening with the Incredible Mr Capsis, whose black dress was rather drab compared to the two ladies that had preceded him. I’m suspicious of anyone who has to put “incredible” in their headline, and complaining about the late start due to the (welcome) over-indulgence of the other artists, Capsis doesn’t quite own his opening songs. However, when he begins to channel Judy Garland, and then uncannily transforms into Amy Winehouse (seriously, this is the tribute artist you are looking for), I am sold. Paul Capsis says there are no rules in Cabaret, which is lucky for us, because when he says this is going to be his last song, he doesn’t have to stick to his word.

Ronnie Burkett's Theatre of Marionettes
Ronnie Burkett’s Theatre of Marionettes

Over at the Herald Theatre, The Daisy Theatre have set up their stage. This is the theatre of Canada’s Ronnie Burkett and his Theatre of Marionettes. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve seen Marionette Burlesque. But that’s only the start of the show, and along the way we meet a huge cast which includes a talking horse, a chatty grandmother, a cross-dressing English general, and a volatile aging diva or two. What I love about this show is not only the skill to which these gorgeously designed marionettes are bought to life, but the way it embraces the world of Vaudeville, a form that has all but died out. Burkett apparently improvises madly around his set pieces each night, and much of the fun comes when he breaks the fourth wall, or enlists audience members to help with the chaos. It’s all very silly, but there are moments of pathos too that reach for something bigger. You can read Sharu Delilkan’s review for more.

That’s as much as I will get to see at the Festival, but as well as these performers there is also Edith Piaf tonight and Tim Finn tomorrow, so do pick something.

While the champagne flows for the bourgeois audience at the Cabaret Festival, over at The Basement Theatre, a more pure form of Cabaret is taking place. If There’s Not Dancing at the Revolution, I’m not coming is better described as accessible performance art than cabaret, but it is affordable, political, incendiary, and triumphant.  Julia Croft, with director Virginia Frankovich, have done the overseas training thing, and are now creating powerful work with meaning for Auckland’s stages. Revolution critiques the sexualisation of a woman’s body and recontextualises it as a political space, asking how she can retain power and ownership over it when society and media also seeks this control. The show is a like a live-action version of the Laura Mulvey essays you would have read in film class. Croft and Frankovich juxtapose famous film clips and audio (such as the Leo/Kate drawing scene in Titanic) to subvert the male gaze. The show is a slow strip tease in that Croft begins wearing a giant number of costume layers, and sheds them for each sequence until they are all gone. Croft wants us to look, but with a resistant gaze. One more night.

If There's "Not Dancing" at the Basement, then I am definitely coming
If There’s “Not Dancing” at the Basement, then I am definitely coming

More details about the Auckland International Cabaret Season can be found at Auckland Live

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