The Queensland Cabaret Festival will take over Brisbane for the next three weeks, bringing a veritable orgy of music, comedy, drama, kitsch and quirk to venues all over town. But for the unconverted, what’s so great about cabaret, anyway?
“What appeals to me about cabaret is the lack of rules,” says Bethan Ellsmore, a member of Babushka. They’re a four-woman cabaret troupe whose Queensland Cabaret Festival show, I Can Keep a Secret, is a champagne-soaked mash-up of everything from Tchaikovsky and Kate Bush to Portishead and Sondheim.
“When you’ve got cabaret,” Bethan continues, “you’ve got no fourth wall. That’s the first thing. It’s about the connection with the audience. It’s about the people on stage making a serious connection, either through comedy or drama or music, with whoever’s sitting in front of them, and there are just no rules about how you do that.
“You’ve got Caroline Nin coming in and doing Songs and Stories of the Paris Lido, this really traditional, beautiful French homage, and then you’ve got Naomi Price doing Miley Cyrus, and then you’ve got the four of us in Babushka taking everything in between and turning it on its head.
“We were doing really traditional concerts as an operatic quartet, but Alicia [Cush] and I have such eclectic, underground taste in music, that we felt somewhat restricted by our art form. Cabaret turned out to be the perfect forum for us to try out these crazy new things that didn’t have a place in theatre or classical music or pop. It’s a place where we could take Carmen and mash it up with Kylie Minogue. We could do our own version of a Gotye song, or The Darkness. We could do anything.”
When Queensland Cabaret Festival co-creative producers Kris Stewart and Alison St Ledger first called for submissions last year, they stressed the need for diversity, and they encouraged performers to be bold. “We want artists that will shock, entertain and seduce an audience,” Ledger said; “no idea is too wild.” Looking at the festival program, it’s safe to say they’ve delivered.
Highlights of the eclectic festival include:
- Michelle Nightingale’s Born To Run, a one-woman show that somehow sets the struggle of Australian women forced to put their children up for adoption in the ‘60s and ‘70s to the tunes of Bruce Springsteen;
- Melody Beck’s Unseen: A Tribute to Marni Nixon, an unabashed love letter to the legendary ‘Voice of Hollywood’;
- Kim Smith’s Nova Noir, which combines the glitter and doom of Weimar-era Germany with modern electro-pop tunes and dance floor classics;
- My Latin Heart, an evening of passionate tango with Opera Australia baritone Jose Carbo and classical guitarists Slava and Leonard Grigoryan.
“The Queensland Cabaret Festival is one of the most exciting things for me as an artist,” Bethan says. “What it does for the scene, particularly for the Brisbane scene, which can get trapped in very traditional ideas of what theatre and musical theatre can be, is it gives us this chance to experience stuff that’s different and unexpected and challenging, but also very entertaining. It opens up the scene for younger performers, and for fringe performers.”
“I couldn’t be happier to be part of the Queensland Cabaret Festival. It’s so exciting!”
The Queensland Cabaret Festival runs from Friday 6 June to Saturday 21 June at Brisbane Powerhouse, Ipswich Civic Centre, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, QPAC, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University and The Arts Centre Gold Coast. For the full festival schedule and tickets, head to qldcabfest.com.au.