Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A further repeat: Dark, delicious cabaret

"Cabaret is an umberella term," says Amanda Palmer, half of the siamese twin duo Evelyn Evelyn. "You've got all these perfomers making music and totally unafraid of being theatrical. Even Lady Gaga draws her inspiration from theatre. It's a reaction to the music of the 1990s, which stripped everything back. Now the pendulum has swung the other way."
Cabaret is learning to live in the spotlight. Camille O'Sullivan, longtime darling of the Spiegeltent, has grown to fill the largest Pleasance space. Scottee's queer Live Art special Eat Your Heart Out has been promoted to the Assembly. And Amanda Palmer, who threatened to ascend to stadium rock godhead with The Dresden Dolls, has become a standard bearer for the meeting of punk and cabaret. Last year saw the stand up comedians and critics square up to burlesque. This year, cabaret has to find a way to retain its intimacy in the face of popularity.
Camille has scaled back her band to a three piece and wanders through her set, confounding expectations by revealing her idiosyncratic preoccupations and perfecting songs by Jacque Brel, Nick Cave and Gillian Welch. Retreating from the rockier treatments of last year, she delivers a five star show and balances surreal humour and intimate confessional.
Undermining her intensity by unnerving clowning, Camille prevents her show from being self-important: the gradual shift of mood sees her abandon her welcoming warmth for something uncanny and deep. Unlike many who claim the excluded and heart-broken as inspiration, Camille brings an authentic compassion to her tales of the dispossessed and marginalised.
Eat Your Heart Out is a liminal travesty. Scottee, a gracious, self-deprecating and cutting host, guides his audience through wild acts: From Figs in Wigs - an Yvonne Rainer vision of a Lady Gaga video - to Myra Dubois - her children's show is a viciously funny attack on decency and drag's acerbic edge - EYHO is a taut lesson on non-conformist queer cabaret. Their allegiance to Live Art is clear, their relationship to cabaret like the couple that can't help getting back together despite the heart-break. Just when cabaret is becoming mainstream again, Scottee thankfully drags it back to the margins.
Meanwhile Amanda Palmer's Evelyn Evelyn is a cunning strategy to avoid the inevitable obsolescence built into the career of rock musicians. Creating a parody of a freak show turn, her Siamese twin act with Jason Webley takes her through honky-tonk and bluegrass pastiches, hilarious yet retaining her trademark skill at finding the universal in the peculiar. As a songwriter, she is far from Camille's brilliance as an interpreter of classic tunes, but adds a vaudeville bite to her passionate songs of love and alienation. She admits that she has a fan base who "get and appreciate the injoke of my life," allowing her to do "what I feel like doing, even if it is dangerous, business-wise."
Cabaret may be popular, but as all of these artists prove, and as Amanda Palmer makes explicit, it has the spirit of reaction against the dull 1990s' seriousness and can still be deliciously subversive.

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