This was an extremely tight production. A well written romp through the many musical loves of comedian Lenny Henry. The show was very well put together and included many moments of unashamed crowd milking and heat seeking audience harassment. Spotting individuals who must have glowed in the dark like prime targets Henry asks individual punters their name and then fixes on them as targets for a variety of insults... er, gags as the show progresses.
He tells of learning to play the piano late in life, and then demonstrates how he really hasn't actually mastered the instrument as yet by playing some tunes quite poorly, but his ill attempts have been set up so well they get well deserved laughs rather than grumbles. He demonstrates his vast talents as a mimic by parading his bulky stature in the guise of Beyonce, Elvis, and Winston Churchill. Dear old Winston even got a little randy and attacked one of those targets in the audience again.
Snippets from songs he has admired, and even songs he has recorded (one with Kate Bush) were pumped into the Festival Theatre and he almost managed to get people up and dancing at times, but that's not what his audience are here to do – their main job is to laugh and clap en masse when he says or does something funny.
If the audience don't manage to get this crucial element of his show right, he chastises them and demands a replay, and the audience dutifully complies. He even managed a standing ovation after criticising the few who stood up when they thought the show was done.
The slickness of the show with its large screen projections and multiple music cues has obviously been constructed out of well worn material that Henry has developed over time, he even told jokes we had all seen recently on ABC television's 'Q and A' variety program... current affairs program... whatever it is trying to be; anyway we all laughed at that joke as well like the good moppets we were. Some of the material is new and designed especially for us he tells us, and then he admits that it went over better in Tasmania than it did just now in Adelaide, and everyone laughs.
His particular position on the comedic food chain comes with the great insights of a person born and bred in a country other than the one of his parents origin, so he knows how amusing it is when 'multi cultural types' suddenly sound like they belong somewhere. He made some very amusing jokes about minorities in this context, apologising as he went and explaining that he would get around to offending all minorities before the show was done, so no one need feel left out or exclusively harassed; no one except his chosen targets in the front row – but like anyone who has visited a Dame Edna show knows, they are fair game and it is ultimately all in fun.
Was this bone fide cabaret? Well, probably not exactly really, but it was extremely entertaining and it was so light hearted I'm doubtful that anyone in the audience really cared.
Cradle to Rave was the last cab off the rank for this year's Adelaide Cabaret Festival and it was a really funny night out. As the various voices sound out their consternations about Kate Ceberano's vision of Cabaret in her first effort as Artistic Director I can hear wise Lenny Henry remarking "Everyone together or not at all!" and in this case he would be absolutely correct – after all he did manage to get the standing ovation he felt was appropriate, and he did more or less apologise to the various audience targets he had bombed with embarrassment over his two acts of splendidly delivered mayhem mocking and madness.
2012 Adelaide Cabaret Festival
From Cradle to Rave
Directed by Richard Wilson
Venue: Festival Theatre
Date: 23 June 2012
Tickets: $109.90 – $44.90