Cabaret comedy is cathartic

25 June 2021

Steven Oliver’s saucy “faboriginal fabaret” delights Erin Hutchinson, with its mix of light and shade.

Bigger & Blacker, Steven Oliver & Perth International Cabaret Festival ·
Downstairs at the Maj, 24 June 2021 ·

The Perth arts community has been one of the luckiest in the world during these COVID-impacted times, but the inaugural Perth International Cabaret Festival has had a rough time of it, with a 40 percent drop in income due to cancellations. I am all for supporting quarantine periods, but a fourteen day pause in an artist’s performance schedule can be a killer. In the end eight artists bringing five big shows were unable to make it to the nine-day festival.

I had been looking forward to an evening of two shows: the WA premiere of Fiona Choi’s Dragon Lady, and Selina Jenkin’s Boobs, coming straight off her run at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Both were cancelled, and a third option for the evening, Exposing Edith, also bit the dust.

And so, we were left with one… and what a treat it was!  

Steven Oliver’s all original, autobiographical, comedic cabaret Bigger & Blacker is a real gem of a show, or as he says, a “faboriginal fabaret”. I have to admit I have never watched ABC’s Black Comedy, for which Oliver is known, so I had no idea what to expect. From the opening moments Oliver sets his audience at ease, setting a cheeky tone for the night, and riling up enthusiastic fans with some booty thrusting dance moves. Over the next hour and twenty minutes he presented a range of jazz numbers, rap pieces, personal stories and some fun cultural awareness tips. It was the perfect combination, and Oliver delivered with pizzazz.

Coming from a comedy background, Oliver has a great sense of play on stage, interacting easily with the audience and bringing light to many bits of shade. He inspired the audience to challenge their views on racism, queer experiences, politics and identity though sassy lyrics, light hearted music and thoughtful storytelling.

There was plenty to be amused at in his songs “Hey There Brother/ All You Gammin Bitches”, “Manhole” and “Shake Your Shit Off”, and the autobiographical stories are often hilarious. But for me it was the softer numbers and the raps that had me leaning in to listen (and drew some quiet sniffling from the audience around me). As Oliver says, “songwriting is a purging” and the catharsis was real. “Get Me” is a lovely comment on the importance of true connection, which Oliver plays beautifully on guitar. His most lyrical piece is the love song “You Make Me Feel” which benefitted from gorgeous harmonies by Oliver’s talented good mate/ accompanist/ backup singer/ Festival Director Michael Griffiths.

The raps were something else, rhythmically strong and performed with animated attitude. Oliver’s clever wording in “Carry All My Hurt Away” touches on the pain of fame, and the challenge to self-identity from being caged by the expectations of others. This message is followed through in “Positivity” and later, “Your Song”.

“Are You Ok” (complete with tap dance) and “Powerful” were excellent numbers to finish up with, and included a bit of audience participation, before closing with an encore of spoken word “I’m a Black Fella”.

This festival is all about having a voice, and telling a good story through music, which Oliver certainly does. But unless you already have tickets you won’t be able to see him as he’s now sold out. Here’s hoping for another run, ‘cos this is “one hell of a sexy fella” you’ll want to catch.

The Perth International Cabaret Festival continues until 27 July 2021.

Pictured top: Steven Oliver is “one hell of a sexy fella”. Photo supplied

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Author —
Erin Hutchinson

Erin Hutchinson is an actor, singer, theatre maker and teacher who is passionate about local arts. Whilst she wishes she could still be a ninja on the monkey bars, she’s content to enjoy a turn on the swings… easier to still hold a glass of wine.

Past Articles

  • A blonde moment you won’t object to

    Large audiences packed Crown Theatre for the bubbly premiere of an all-local production of Legally Blonde the Musical, says Erin Hutchinson.

  • Into the Australian woods

    WAAPA’s Australianised Into the Woods is an adventurous adaptation that didn’t quite hit the mark, says Erin Hutchinson.

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