It’s a Saturday night in January, we’re in Northbridge at Perth’s Cultural Centre, and Fringe World 2014 has just opened. Families are lounging in deck chairs around a giant sandbox, basking in the rainbow-coloured glow of the giant jumbotron that lords over the square between PICA and the State Library. It’s getting close to bedtime for the kids, and it’s getting close to showtime for the late-night cabaret acts.
Tonight I’m watching two cabarets in a row; the publicist had called earlier in the day to warn me that I might not make it into the second one because the first one runs a bit long, but that she’d still put me down for both if I feel like I’d be able to sprint the length of James street from the Cultural Centre Fringe hub down to The Pleasure Garden at Russell Square. I have put on my purple Converse All-Stars in preparation for my potential mad dash.
First on the menu: The Vaudevillians
We line up outside the Teatro, and the drag queens are gathering.
Jinkx Monsoon, RuPaul’s Drag Race season 5 winner, has made her way from rainy Seattle to sunny Perth with her co-star Major Scales to debut their ridiculously funny cabaret The Vaudevillians. We slide into the wooden bleachers and take our plastic Fringe World fans in hand; it’s warm, but not uncomfortable, and the tent is buzzing with anticipation. An ornate red velvet gilded lounge sits empty on stage, as does a keyboard, and a few props are scattered about. It looks like an awfully big stage for just two performers, but little did I know just how well they would fill it.
Jinkx and Scales appear as Kitty Witless and Dr. Dan Von Dandy, two Vaudeville performers who, because of a cocaine-fueled miracle of science were frozen alive in the 20s (don’t ask me how, because it’s terribly complicated), have been thawed out a century later and are now touring the world with their act. They’ve reawoken to discover that many of the songs they wrote “in the olden days” have gone on to be covered by some of the most famous pop stars of the late 20th and early 21st century, and they’re here now performing them in their original song-and-dance versions. We hear Madonna’s “Music,” Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Britney Spears’s “Toxic,” with a few Kurt Weills and Cole Porters thrown in for good measure.
Kitty and Dr. Dan have been in each other’s face for too long, their routine has become contentious and riddled with bickering and insults, but their arguments are buoyant and fun, so no one really gets hurt. Kitty is absolutely stunning and magnetic, I could hardly take my eyes off her for a single second. I had to remind myself to check in with Dr. Dan periodically in an attempt to be egalitarian with my attentions. Their timing together and with the audience is immaculate, even through technical difficulties, rising temperatures and unpredictable audience participants. This is top-of-the line cabaret, you won’t see any better work than this.
Jinkx has a voice that would put many female cabaret or musical theatre singers to shame, and Scales is a keyed-up (forgive the pun; I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s to do with the piano or the show’s cocaine references) accompanist who drives the show swiftly, if not a little meanderingly (the advertised 70-minute running time is blown out to about 95 minutes), to its apex. I won’t spoil the sublime effect of the finale number by revealing how we end up there, but trust me when I say it’s well worth the trip. I’ve not seen anything quite like it. Smart, silly, sexy, fiendish and impeccably dressed.
While I and much of the audience are on our feet for an ovation, I check my phone for the time and see that we only have four minutes to get to The Pleasure Garden, which is at least a good 10-15 minute walk, depending on how many groups of night-clubbers and weird buskers you have to get through. I patted myself on the back for the foresight of wearing my Chucks (when I would rather have been in my five-inch disco wedges), and take off.
We are only six minutes late to our second dish of the night: EastEnd Cabaret: Dirty Talk.
We plop down, slightly breathless, into our fold-up chairs at the back of the West Australian Spiegeltent, ready for more saucy, raunchy, naughty cabaret. And EastEnd Cabaret delivers.
Without having seen the introduction, I have to put the pieces together myself of what these two ladies are up to. The singer with the black feathers and the black bob is Bernadette Byrne, and her accent is vaguely German, although it could be Swiss for all I know. The pianist is Victor Victoria, and she’s dressed like a side-show male-female cross-dresser. The two sing original songs, mostly about sex, which the crowd lapped up with giddy glee.
While this cabaret hits all the right notes, I am slightly underwhelmed after having witnessed The Vaudevillians; it strikes me that I’m not really seeing anything new or different in EastEnd, but for those who don’t get out to see much cabaret, I’m sure they will be well and truly titillated by its content. I’m not entirely convinced by Bernadette Byrne’s character, the accent slips now and again, and the bold edges and surprising angles that the best cabaret characters display are disappointingly missing. Victor Victoria has a mousy manic appeal, though, and the comedic ball is usually in her court.
As a follow-up to the highly polished, hard-driving Vaudevillians, EastEnd feels flaccid, and I realise with ruefulness that I may have overindulged in my cabaret binge. But on another night, on an emptier stomach, EastEnd might have been just right.
Perth Fringe World 2014
Venue: Teatro | Perth Cultural Centre, James Street, Northbridge, WA
Date: 24 – 31 January, 2014
EastEnd Cabaret: Dirty Talk
Venue: The West Australian Spiegeltent | The Pleasure Garden, James Street, Northbridge, WA
Date: 24 – 31 January, 2014
Top Left – The Vaudevillians
Bottom Left – EastEnd Cabaret