Tuesday, November 21, 2023



Marcel Cole in "The Ukulele Man"

Directed by Dave Collins & Louiza Blomfield – Sound & Lighting Design by Lucy Van Dooren

 ACT Hub Theatre November 16-18. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

It’s taken Canberra a while to catch up with other Australian cities, but now it can finally boast its own Cabaret Festival. 

An initiative of ACT Hub and curated by Dave Collins and Louiza Blomfield, the festival began modestly with five different shows presented over three nights, with the laudable goal of providing a platform for emerging Canberra artists.

The Festival began promisingly with Tim Maher having the unenviable honour of being the first cab off the rank with his show entitled “Café Boomer”.

Tim Cole in "Cafe Boomer".

Accompanying himself on an artfully disguised keyboard, and drawing on his experience as a physiotherapist, Maher fashioned his show around relationships, beginning with a sly parody of Billy Joel’s “Honesty” before launching into Leon Russell’s “Masquerade” to support his proposition that “we are all wearing masks”.

Moving away from the keyboard, Maher launched into an amusing discourse on relationships of various kinds, emphasising particular aspects by weaving in songs from well-known musicals, some of which were accompanied by pre-recorded soundtracks. Among them, “To Break In A Glove” from the  Michael Park/Ben Plat musical,  “Dear Evan Hansen”; and two Stephen Sondheim songs, “No More”, from “Into the Woods”, and a virtuosic rendition of the challenging “Franklin Shepard Inc. ” from “Merrily We Roll Along”.

A monologue from Yasmina Reza’s play “Art”, a quote from Michael Leunig and a medley combining Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy”, John Farnham’s  “You’re the Voice” and finally The Beatles, “All You Need is Love”, rounded out an engaging, confidently performed  and thoroughly entertaining presentation.

Marcel Cole had already presented his cabaret “The Ukulele Man” at the Adelaide and Sydney Fringe Festivals where it won him plaudits and prizes. Directed by Mirjana Ristevski, “The Ukulele Man” tracked the story of British music hall star, George Formby, who with his ukulele and repertoire of double entendre songs, became Britain’s highest paid entertainer, and winning world-wide fame during the 1930’s and 40’s mainly as a result of a series of popular B grade films, and for his indefatigable efforts entertaining troops during World War 11.

With considerable charm, and eschewing a microphone, Cole told Formby’s story through a selection Formby’s most popular songs, including of course,  “When I’m Cleaning Windows”,  “With a Ukulele In My Hand”, and “Leaning on a Lamp Post”, accompanying himself on both ukulele and banjolele.

A surprising feature of Formby’s story was the influence exerted by his wife, Beryl, a former entertainer who managed his career with an iron fist.  

Katie Cole and Marcel Cole in "The Ukulele Man".

 In “The Ukulele Man”, Beryl was played by Cole’s mother, Katie Cole, who not only portrayed Formby’s wife, but also Formby’s disapproving mother and a BBC announcer;  contributing accompaniments on keyboards, violin and ukulele, while accomplishing  lightning-fast costume changes.

All these she achieved with considerable panache, as Cole also changed costumes, stylishly portrayed emotional moments, and even included some eccentric dancing.  Well-chosen sound effects and lighting all contributed to a hugely enjoyable, brilliantly executed cabaret experience.

For their cabaret “That’s What Friends Are For” Cabaret Festival curators, Dave Collins and Louiza Blomfield, drew on their personal friendship and finely-honed ad lib  skills to present a relatively unstructured, but delightfully entertaining selection of ballads and show tunes utilising pre-recorded piano accompaniments.

Dave Collins and Louiza Blomfield in "That's What Friends Are For".

Both are superb vocalists, so particular highlights included a captivating arrangement of “Over The Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” blended with  “Home” from “The Wiz” sung by Collins, who also contributed an emotional rendering of Jason Robert Brown’s “It All Fades Away”.

Blomfield scored with her powerful rendition of “The Winner Takes It All” from “Mamma Mia”, and their duet, “The Song That Goes Like This” from Spamalot, is probably the funniest version of this song you’re ever likely to hear.  

George Belibassakis in "Be Brave, Changeling".

For his cabaret, “Be Brave, Changeling”, George Belibassakis drew songs from a variety of sources to illustrate an excoriating, deeply personal, account of his life so far.  An arresting a Capella rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” followed his revelation of self harm, The Door’s, “Hello, I love you”, explained his efforts to reach out. Thomas A Dorsey’s “There Will be Peace In the Valley” and Nickelback’s “Gotta Be Somebody” brought an often confronting, but ultimately optimistic cabaret to its conclusion.

The Festival ended with an intriguingly entitled show “Cruise Ships and Crematoriums” presented by Lawson Reid.

Revealing an engaging personality, and an enviable talent for stand-up, Reid regaled his audience with a stream-of-consciousness account of his life working on cruise ships, living in government subsidised  hotels after being made homeless by floods, then finally discovering his niche as a “Pet Aftercare Specialist and Corpse Removalist”.

Accompanying himself on guitar, Reid augmented his own original songs with others including Carrie Underwood’s “Drinking Alone”, The Eagles “Hotel California” and Willy Nelson’s “On the Road Again” while keeping his audience agog with his revelations so bizarre that they had to be true; thus providing a fascinating climax to Canberra’s first highly successful Cabaret Festival. 

An edited version of this review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 20.11/23