Cabaret Festival

Cabaret Festival Review: Songs Of Don


Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre

Reviewed 18 June 2021

What should be immediately obvious walking out of Songs of Don is the genius of the man’s songwriting ability. Described as “the most Australian writer there has ever been”, this curated collection of some of Don Walker’s greatest hits–and a few lesser known numbers–throws into sharp relief his unique and unassuming style. 

It should then be no surprise that anyone approaching his catalogue might do so with a degree of trepidation, and there were more than a few nerves evident as the three performers for the evening stepped out on stage for a tribute to the man himself. Whittled down from four by an escalating series of COVID-related mishaps, Katie Noonan, Clare Bowditch and Sarah McLeod took over songs previously assigned to Mahalia Barnes (herself a stand-in for Emma Donovan). They make no bones of the fact that a few of the numbers on the setlist were learnt hours, even minutes ago. How much of this is creative license isn’t immediately obvious, but it did initially make for a disjointed experience, like the audience were collectively transported into a backstreet pub gig, underlined beautifully by Bowditch throwing her shoes off (though not before asking politely–this is the Festival Theatre after all). 

And honestly what would be more appropriate. Ably supported by Jess Green on guitar, Zoe Hauptmann on bass and Bree Van Ryke on drums, Noonan, Bowditch and McLeod made the evening a unique celebration. There were a few early missteps, including (what felt like) a ten-minute run of chitchat before a single note was played and a flat-ish cover of Saturday Night, all of which threatened to make what followed pretty unexceptional. But as the trio warmed to each other and the special potential of the show, everything coalesced into a truly magical experience.

Noonan’s voice was faultless, her solo piano rendition of Choirgirl a show highlight in its simplicity and fierce conviction. McLeod proved to be the show’s MVP with her rousing performances of Flame Trees and Khe Sanh. Her effortless cool and arresting stage presence were a joy to watch. Bowditch seemed a little uncomfortable in her performance- it didn’t help that she repeatedly referred to “Don Watson”, whoever that is- but her magnetism and charm was undeniably infectious. The moments of banter between songs became delightfully unhinged as the evening went on, but also provided deserved reflection on the songwriter and themselves.

Songs of Don, though agitated in places, was a definite highlight, keenly curated by Noonan and earnestly entertaining throughout. 

Reviewed by Callum McLean

Rating out of 5: 3.5

Season Ended – One Night Only

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