Friday, May 5, 2017



Adelaide Cabaret Festival   June 9 – 25. Adelaide Festival Centre

by Peter Wilkins

Ali McGregor and Eddie Perfect
Artistic Directors of the 2017 Adelaide Cabaret Festival


Now in its seventeenth year, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival remains a glittering jewel in Adelaide’s rich Festival crown. In recognition of its artistic longevity and its unique contribution to cabaret in the country, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival under first time co-artistic directors Ali McGregor and Eddie Perfect was recognized as the best major event and festival in the 2016 South Australian Tourism Awards. Adelaide has long enjoyed its enviable reputation as the Festival State, but for my money, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival holds a special place in the hearts of all cabaret lovers who make the pilgrimage each year to taste the festival’s delights.
This year the delights offer a banquet of performances and events to tantalize the taste buds of every aficionado and entice new theatre-goers to sample the delectable morsels on offering and revel in the very special, intimate and dynamic experience that is the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

This year, buoyed by their phenomenal success in 2016, Artistic Directors McGregor and Perfect, with the Adelaide Festival Centre have lured 430 artists to excite audiences with 147 performances. Fifty –eight international artists will travel from as far afield as the United States, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Japan and New Zealand. Of the 372 Australian artists taking part, 234 come from South Australia, proof that the festival’s long history has been a fertile breeding ground for aspiring  cabaret performers. A highlight of several years has been the Class of Cabaret at which young performers demonstrate the phenomenal talent that exists in the state. This year alone, the festival will showcase seventeen world premieres, five Australian premieres, 25 Adelaide premieres as well as 17 Adelaide exclusives, twenty shows with international artists including the amazing Alan Cumming with his show, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs. As Australia’s leading producer of cabaret, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival will also commission or co-commission five entirely original shows.

Alan Cumming with his cabaret show
Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs
Small wonder then that McGregor should be bursting with enthusiasm as she describes the surprises and delights in store for those who make the journey to Adelaide from June 9 – 25.
“It’s been really quite wonderful for me” McGregor says. “I’ve been part of the festival as a performer in David’s (Campbell), Kate’s (Ceberano) and Barrys (Humphries) festivals. We are all travelling down that same Yellow Brick Road. I don’t feel as though we’re wiping the slate and starting again. I feel as though we are building on what’s gone before. There’s always another colour being thrown into the palette.

Now into their second cabaret festival, McGregor and Perfect are turning the tables with a fresh new look at cabaret and its role in a contemporary world. The marketing team’s promotional video becomes a pertinent metaphor for this year’s festival. A group of formally attired cabaret performers are seated at a table. Suddenly one hurls a meatball across the table at another. Before long, meatballs are flying in all directions, splattering on faces and clothes. One of the artists tears open her shirt to reveal the glitter beneath as the table erupts into slapstick chaos. “The throwing of the meatballs starts with provocation.” McGregor explains. “Underneath is the cabaret sense of play and revolution. That’s what we feel is happening in the world as well. There’s a lot more in the Zeitgeist of gender issues, inequality, feminism and racism and the dialogue about such events as the Trump presidency, the rise of populism, Brexit and political and social events in our own country.”
However, McGregor and Perfect didn’t want to address the big issues too seriously. There is always a political undercurrent in Cabaret with lots of satire. McGregor also feels that it is important that performers never take themselves too seriously “

This year the tables have also been turned on the creative producers, the artists and the festival team. Extensive renovations to the Adelaide Festival Centre on the banks of the River Torrens have meant that some traditional spaces such as the Piano Bar and the Wintergarden will not be accessible. This has resulted in many of the performances being moved to the river side of the Centre and more performances being transferred to Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide’s CBD. Festivalgoers will need to allow more time to reach venues, especially if they are planning to go from one performance to another at a different location. Ever the optimist, McGregor sees advantage in such apparent disruption and equates it with innovation.
“We are interested in a lot of innovation in the form.” McGregor and Perfect have worked closely as a team to select performers who are doing many very interesting things with the broad ranging genre of cabaret. McGregor is especially inspired by Delacroix’s image of Liberty, leading the battle. It is in fact her leitmotif, the stirring image of a distinctly feminine image with a sense of power. “Having a power is something I see a lot in the arts.” she says.

It is also a force that has led her into the curation of events, and the power to make a difference through her art. McGregor is no novice to the curation of a festival. Before working with Perfect on last year’s festival, she curated for the Melbourne Comedy Festival and in 2015 curated her own show Decadence in celebration of a decade of her involvement in cabaret.  
“I don’t just chuck a whole lot of people together. I like a balance. I make sure that there is a balance of light and dark and different stories being told. We want to have something for everyone with songbook singers, comedy, some drama and theatre, some physical comedy with every weekend to be balanced. “

Ancient Rain with Paul Kelly, Camille
O'Sullivan and Feargal Murray
A glance at the programme over the three weekends is evidence of the vast range of styles and cabaret performances to challenge a diehard’s view of what is cabaret. International artists like Alan Cumming and Bridget Everet are there with Australian favourites such as Meow-Meow, Paul Kelly and Camille O’Sullivan, and for something different the local Adelaide String Quartet. There is an innovative project, Hush 16: A Piece of Quiet, featuring musical compositions, created after conversations with children in hospital and in complete contrast, there is the Burlesque boys from Queensland with their risqué and cheeky show, Briefs.

" I was really desperate to bring new stories.” McGregor tells me. “ I wanted to have lots of different colours- singers who came from an operatic background like Peter and Bambi, Kage and renegade ballsy and brassy Bridget Everet. Every time I’ve performed at the Cabaret Festival I’ve come away filled with inspiration.”
Bridget Everet
Perfect and McGregor will also be performing at the festival. “There’s no way I could just stand and watch all that. We can’t help ourselves.” she laughs.
“And what about the audiences?” I ask. “I love them so much.” McGregor replies. They’ll come along because of Alan Cumming, but they’ll take a punt on someone they’ve never heard of before. They know we’re going to programme stuff of quality. It may not be to your taste but it will be of a quality that you’ll get something out of even if it’s not your fang.”

For audiences who may only be able to make a part of the entire festival, such as interstate visitors, I raise the obvious dilemma. There’s so much on and one can’t hope to see everything. McGregor has some very sound advice. “We tried very hard to make sure that every weekend is balanced.” She says. “Find a weekend you’re available. I would look at one act you desperately want to see and maybe one you’ve seen before that you’re dying to see again, and then go from there. We have our opening gala and our closing gala. Find the central show that you would like to see and then just go from there.”
Family Gala. Photo by Claudio Raschella
McGregor is a cabaret captive and knows better than most what will appeal and guarantees quality. Opera trained at the ANU School of Music and in the UK and Italy, McGregor escaped the regimented world of opera to literally run away to the circus and join the highly successful circus/cabaret act, La Clique. She was captured by the immediacy of cabaret and the freedom that Cabaret offered. “”It’s so immediate and there’s such a direct dialogue between audience and performer which I love.”It’s an immediacy and a dialogue between audience and artists that will burst into life when McGregor and Perfect’s second Cabaret Festival opens on June 9th with a fabulous Opening Gala.

It seems only appropriate that Perfect, who was overseas at the time of this interview, should have the final word. “In 2017 we invite our brave and open-minded audience to join us to turn the tables from fear to love, division to unity, anger to joy and all with wit, skill, wonder and passion.” Add to that a feast of the senses and you have a festival that is impossible to resist.

For further information on the  Adelaide Cabaret Festival Programme and bookings go to or phone BASS on 131246. International Bookings on 618 82052300