Tuesday, 25 October 2011

More Martyrs...

A good two years after the fuss about “the cabaret revival” has died down, a selection of artists are thinking about taking it to the next stage. Even Des O’Connor, who could happily work out the rest of his life seeking cheeky songs to high class variety audiences, has started on a more serious piece – his Once Bitten is a work-in-progress that plays with his jolly MC persona to explore a mid-life romantic crisis. And while Dusty Limits has been toying with audiences for a while – his persona was always hinting at a dark past and a path of decadent rebellion, the polemics of object manipulator Mat Ricardo against X-Factor and the trivialisation of entertainment into a circus of social Darwinism suggest that cabaret is becoming home to the political malcontent.

The current tour of Apocalypse by the Occasional Cabaret has seen some of the old hands getting back into the game: Occasional Cabaret is the latest incarnation of Benchtours, who can recall the vitality of Edinburgh’s Cafe Graffiti. The short revival of Wildcat and 7:84 in 2011’s Mayfesto added novelist and young spark Alan Bissett to their line-up, while dusting off their more satirical numbers. The National Theatre of Scotland is yet to fall for the vaudeville virus, but Scottish Opera made a successful alliance with burlesque juggernaut Club Noir at the 2010 Fringe. Add to this the natural sympathy between Scottish live art institution Mischief La Bas, and Dance Base’s support of Blonde Ambition’s narrative length burlesques – again hosted by O’Connor and starring Gypsy Charms, the mother of Scottish burlesque – and the vision of Linden Tree, to have cabaret taken as seriously as theatre – is already healthy.

The Creative Martyrs, formerly masters of the knowing routine, are undoubtedly Glasgow’s brightest hope for an integrated cabaret theatre. Tales from a Cabaret, despite being stuck in Fingers Piano Bar, has gathered support over two Fringes, and their recent version at The Art Club demonstrated how far the duo have come since their early days as a cheeky turn at The Rio Cafe’s Spangled.  Based on The Martyrs' mythical history, it concentrates on the tale of two turns in a fictional nation where decadent enthusiasm slowly gives way to  state-controlled art.

If the genius of The Martyrs is their fusion of some very experimental mime techniques, sinister story-telling and sarcastic sing-alongs , the strength of Tales comes from its ability to merge the bureaucratic horrors of Eastern communism with the shifting strategies of modern technology to control the market. The List begins as a charming parody of Facebook’s enthusiasm for collecting information, before slipping into a more oppressive atmosphere.

 The heroes of Tales, a dancer of ambiguous sexuality and an escape artist dragged deeper into government approved circles, are caught up in forces beyond their comprehension: Jakob and Gustav Martyr never lose their sardonic glee, even as they celebrate the coming end of individuality.

Their finale may offer a glimmer of hope, but The Martyrs’ vision of a society under total control is frightening and contains more satirical punch than anything from a major Scottish theatre company. Without ever reducing themselves to lazy, left-wing sloganeering, The Martyrs are a reminder of how entertainment can retain a sharp edge. 

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