Features/What to SEE/Cabaret

What to SEE: top picks for the Perth International Cabaret Festival

26 May 2022

Perth’s Cabaret Festival is back at the Maj in June – looking bigger and better than ever, says David Zampatti.

The inaugural Perth International Cabaret Festival had no right to succeed, launched in the teeth of the viral storm last year. Producers Graham Lovelock and Ali Welburn took a huge leap of faith (or, perhaps, decided not to look before they leapt), recruited the prodigious cabaret star Michael Griffiths as artistic director, secured The Maj and launched the Festival.

And succeed it did, handsomely, despite some setbacks that might have crippled it (notably the forced withdrawal of its two star attractions for reasons COVID).

Why did it succeed?

First, because of the decision to stage it entirely in His Majesty’s Theatre. The old girl (now there’s a drag act for you) hitched up her skirts and danced on the bar; happy crowds could wander from shows in the Main Hall, Downstairs and the Dress Circle Bar to drinks and snacks in its beautiful foyers and saloons.

Secondly, the indefatigable Griffiths (an Everywhere Man like Perth Festival’s Iain Grandage) injected terrific life into the event, whether performing or buzzing around the place. Along with Welburn and Lovelock, he created a “we’re all in this together” vibe that was irresistible.

The good news is that this year’s Cabaret Festival looks to be even more delicious, with absent headliners from last year joining new marquee acts to make a programme overflow with quality.

Top picks for the Cabaret Festival:

Meow Meow: There’s no getting around the global cabaret uber diva. At this year’s Festival she’s doing what I’ve been hoping for since she crowd-surfed above my head a decade ago; just sing, accompanied by only piano and bass. She has a glorious voice and immaculate musical taste. Mme MM will be divine.

Two women with olive skin and long dark hair stand on yellow sand with yellow limestone rocks and a bright blue sky behind them. They are wearing black formal clothes and smiling
Linda and Vika Bull debut their new album at the opening event of the Cabaret Festival. Photo supplied

Lior: The APRA and ARIA award-winning composer and performer has achieved a remarkable synthesis of his roots in Hebrew and Islamic vocal music to fashion soulful, passionate songs that work as pop, world music and in orchestral settings.

Paul Capsis: A genuine cabaret chameleon, the five-time Helpmann award-winner is an exciting interpreter of everything from Shubert song-cycles (his performance in the Thinice/Malthouse Theatre staging of Die Winterreise remains memorable more than a decade on) to Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and beyond.

Vika and Linda Bull: The Tongan/Australian siblings have worked their way from 20 feet from stardom into the spotlight over an illustrious three-decade career. Their new album, The Wait, which they’ll feature at the Festival, includes stunning new tracks from many of Australia’s elite songwriters, including Don Walker, Paul Kelly, Tracy Chambers and Bernard Fanning. [Ed: This event has been postponed due to illness, a new date will be announced soon.]

And there’s more…

The festival line-up continues with the return of Festival patrons Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse. Their Noongar language translation karaoke, Songs from the Noongaroke Lounge, and free singing in Noongar workshop promise to be a ton of fun. Perennial jazz faves Ali Bodycoat and Libby Hammer’s Over the Rainbow celebrates all things gender and sexual diversity, the mezzo-soprano Brigette Heuser takes a deep dive into the fascinating personalities of Maria Callas and Marlene Dietrich and Peter Cumins pays tribute to his favourite ladies in There is Nothing Like a Dame.

There’s Selina Jenkin’s extraordinary autobiographical Boobs, the R & B duo AViiDA’s celebration of Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder in A Night of Respect and Wonder, the life-affirming Still Alive (and Kicking) from Gill Hicks and Busselton singer/songwriter Eloise Madison’s country pop “Left to My Imagination”.

Gill Hicks, accompanied by Dylan Paul on double bass and Julian Ferraretto on violin, shares her story of triumph over adversity. Photo supplied.

And if you’ve never seen the cabaret provocateur par excellence Tomás Ford, he’ll be lurking in The Basement with his Campfire Ukelele Torture – the title says it all!

Michael Griffiths won’t be resting on his laurels while all this is going on – he’ll be all over the Closing Night Gala on Saturday 25, and hosting the nocturnal review, UpLate Downstairs on weekend nights through the festival.

This year the festival spaces will grow in number, with the addition of The Basement and On the Boards, a pop-up cabaret setting on the stage of the main hall with the glorious Edwardian auditorium as a stunning backdrop for the performances.

Everyone who enjoyed last year’s PICF will be counting the days until it’s return; if you didn’t have that pleasure, you should do yourself a favour…

Perth International Cabaret Festival 2022 runs 18 – 26 June.

Pictured top: Uber diva Meow Meow is one of the headline artists at the Perth International Cabaret Festival. Photo: magnushastings

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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