Cabaret Festival Review: Strange Bedfellows : Bedlam

There is nothing nice about this cabaret performance – mercifully! We are confronted, comforted, ostracised, outraged, deliberately confused and just as deliberately cajoled.

Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed 22nd June 2017

At the top of the flight of stairs is a small black-box space filled with chairs and tiny tables; an ideal arena for intimate cabaret. There is nothing nice about this cabaret performance – mercifully!  We are confronted, comforted, ostracised, outraged, deliberately confused and just as deliberately cajoled.  The two performers work with a sensibility which is not just a homage to the Berlin/Weimar roots of their art form – it’s original Australian satirical cabaret delivered fearlessly and brilliantly.

The perpetrators are Jacqueline Dark and Kanen Breen. When Adelaide audiences saw them last, tenor Breen was a commandingly grotesque Witch of Endor in Barrie Kosky’s Festival opera, “Saul”, last March.  In April, mezzo-soprano Jacqui Dark was the dramatic highlight of Andrew Sinclair’s great Cav/Pag operatic double bill, playing a heartbreakingly believable Santuzza.  And here the two of them are on a stage crammed with an electric piano, a synth, and a psych-ward’s-worth of pill bottles.

Breen’s bleached-blond hair is seriously awry; his mascara and lipstick are generously and inaccurately smeared.  He wears a black sparkly bustier (what else?), ripped fishnets, odd shoes, and little black spandex pants which bulge in an anatomically odd place. Jacqui’s makeup is almost whiteface, but very neat indeed.  She sports a comprehensive brunette wig, bustier, short frilled skirt, stiletto heels and the standard fishnets.

The title of the show, Bedlam, signals a meditation on madness in today’s world… a rich vein of satire if ever there was one.  Dark and Breen have plundered material from a starling range of genres to put together a show which is entertaining, a punch in the guts, and intellectually provocative. Music comes from opera, rock’n’roll, indy pop, jazz, and historic cabaret. Composers include Hanns Eisler, Sting, Ross Gray, Hozier, The Roches, and Simon and Garfunkel.  What’s not to like?

There is never a question about the vocal skills of these two fine performers.  Each genre is sung with gusto and wholly appropriate timbre…  few opera singers can achieve this.  But hang on… they can act as well!  Their work is wry, vicious, visceral and provocative, with precisely balanced charm and repulsiveness in equal measure.  Everything is open to ridicule and examination… and while they’re entertaining us, they make us question marriage equality laws, sexual predation, some evangelical attitudes to genitalia, the sheer barbarism of family life, narcissism, political dictatorships, and more.

A highlight was a howler of a song about Naughty Bits and their euphemisms; it began, “The clitoris is the devil’s doorbell.”  Another memorable moment was Breen’s absolutely glorious performance of the Sting/Eisler song “The secret marriage.”  Dark’s highpoint song began “You were my everything”; she built it both vocally and emotionally to towering heights. Their duet of The Roches’ “Runs in the family” worked wonderfully well.

Accompanist is MD/pianist Daryl Wallis, whose skill is unquestioned; he’s done marvellous work for years with stars like Ali Hughes.  His electric piano was frequently far too loud for the space, and at times threatened to engulf some of the more delicate moments.   It’s all because building activity at the Festival Centre precluded the loading of a grand piano into the Artspace level.  I hope that future iterations of this superb show have an acoustic piano; the work deserves it.

Dark and Breen finish with a rousing version of “Eye of the tiger” as an encore,; Wallis’ piano is again too loud, but fails to dim these two startlingly strong, confrontational and memorable performers.

Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson
Rating out of 5:  5

Venue:  Artspace, Festival Centre
Season:  22nd – 24th th June, 2017
Duration:  70 minutes
TicketsFull Price: $36:90 Concession: $31:90
Bookings:  BASS 131 246 or Adelaide Festival Centre



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