Melbourne Cabaret Festival

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Melbourne Cabaret Festival


Every evening, in some underground bar, an audience sits intimately around a stage while a colourful performer sings songs, delivers theatrical lines, dances, make jokes and executes an audience-engaging show that isn’t just there to be watched, but participated in and enjoyed – New York style.

David Read, who established the Melbourne Cabaret Festival together with Neville Sice, distinguishes cabaret by this particular interaction. “It’s what they call in the industry the fourth wall. So if you imagine when you’re looking at a theatre piece there is an invisible fourth wall between the audience and the performer whereas in cabaret that’s just totally broken down,” Read says. Then he brings in another definition that’s a lot more accessible. It’s something the comedian Colin Lane once said. “He describes cabaret as theatre without the boring bits.”

The festival, starting on 19 July, is now in its second year. Before last year’s premier, previous owners of the iconic Butterfly Club, Read and Slice were constantly exposed to great cabaret shows but it saddened them that the performers weren’t getting the credit they deserved with such a small number of audience members who knew about them. “Cabaret happens all over Melbourne all the time,” says Read. “But because it’s usually in small venues, a lot of it’s under the radar and cabaret performers, being solo performers and performing for small audiences, can’t do a lot to promote themselves. It was really frustrating to see a fantastic show that only 50 people saw because of the size of the room and I saw this consistently where an amazing talent wasn’t getting the audiences it deserved,” says Read about his time at the Butterfly Club.

“What this festival environment does, it puts everything up to a much grander scale and really flags to Melbourne that there’s this amazing theme that’s happening all year round.” Last year’s festival was a success and this year Read is hoping will be even better. “Last year was a little bit scary because we had nothing to compare against whereas this year we had last year’s booking panel to compare against and we’re up on last year,” says Read.

It’s indeed encouraging to hear considering not only the great list of performers but the overall effort that is being put into the festival. The organisers have created a cabaret environment within all the seven venues. “There will be what you would think of as cabaret seating. Tables, nice cosy lamps, all curved around the performance space. It’s comfortable -you have a drink, sit back and relax and enjoy the show,” says Read. In the bigger venue, a full three-course meal will also be provided.

The talent will include some who performed at this year’s Comedy Festival and many performers from last year’s Cabaret Festival. And then there’s a flurry of others, like the flamboyantly, lycra-clad, UK diva, La Gateau Chocolat, who will perform his own show but also host the Big Gay Sunday Cabaret. “Along with the underground cabaret scene, Melbourne’s also got a strong queer performing arts scene – so what we decided to do is celebrate that,” says Read. “We invited Melbourne’s iconic drag queens to respond to the theme of equal marriage rights. They really jumped at the chance to do something more political which is what the strong origins of cabaret are about.”

The show’s program is diverse – including Emma Dean exposing her strip-type musical stylings, rock tones from Dave Graney and the Lurid Yellow Mist, performances to the music of Paul Kelly and Eartha Kitt and Trevor Jones’ sing-a-long Late Night Piano Bar.