The Bolshy, the Glam and the Outrageous

More and more every year, the medium of cabaret is making its bolshy, glam, outrageous presence known at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s often hard to tell the rough from the smooth, the tart from the tasteful, and audiences are faced with a countless bevy of burlesquers, saucy ironic strips, the avant-garde, and the downright dirty. How do you choose? And where does the integrity lie amongst so much attention-seeking?

Thankfully this year there was so much pleasure and pathos to be found from all over the world and also closer to home.

Live and direct (as they say) from Australia, those makers of mirth and muck the boys from Briefs never failed to delight with their multi-levelled onslaught of high-energy camp and thrill-spilling circus and magic. Whilst it’s easy to pass such shows off as hen-party-pleasure-giving flights of fancy (and there was much of that in the house the night I was there) there was also political satire, genre / gender-defying acts of bravery and, decidedly non-ironic cultural and political statements to break up the outrageous humour and nudge-nudge-wink-wink under-the-counter humour. A culture-clash stiletto in the face to the ‘bogans’ who fly in the face of such diversity back in their homeland, this was a skilful, hugely comedic display of physicality, originality and bravado. Look out for them next year.

Over at the Voodoo Rooms the minor-legend that is Mat Ricardo dissected the art of the juggler whilst also presenting a most moving script on the history of music hall and vaudeville. In another’s hands this could have been either disastrous or, at the very least, rather dull, but Vaudeville Schmuck was neither. In a tireless performance that drew us into his globe-trotting world of cruise ships and cheesy adverts, Ricardo led us on an A-Z of his heroes – their trials and tribulations, ups and downs – whilst interspersing the narrative with tireless feats of object manipulation and classic tricks reinvented. We left feeling rather richer to have spent an hour basking in his warm and commanding presence.

Over at Assembly, Frisky and Mannish invited us into their 27 Club. Darker and more disturbing than their usual fluffy pop diatribes and mimicry (of which I am a huge fan) the doomed worlds of Jim, Jimi and Janis collided with the tortured souls of Kurt and Amy as we marvelled at the bittersweet humour and musical genius within their heroes and, ultimately, the performers themselves. Watch this one grow.

Another small joy was Piff the Magic Dragon’s Jurassic Bark. Put aside your worries over the treatment of poor defenceless chihuahuas (this one gets the five-star canine hotel treatment I know) and marvel at this modern day Jack Dee in a day-glo cut-price dragon costume as he mentally abuses his long-suffering assistant Amy Sunshine and the poor four-legged Mr Piffles. It’s cabaret reinvented with a twist and some mind-messing magic. Recommended for everyone. Possibly not vets.

Finally, not quite cabaret in its execution but certainly in its approach, another brilliant young company from Australia, Casus, were brooding, sexy and skilful in their show Knee Deep. Largely acrobatically led, and sharing a multi-tattooed/-talented performer from Briefs, this was the distant cousin ofCantina without the brooding gothic mania yet with the same gorgeously intertwined ensemble integration. One woman opposite sat literally with her mouth open, wide-eyed and in awe, the entire sixty minutes. Whilst essentially we were watching minor reinventions of circus classics for a 21st Century audience, it was hard to argue with her reaction.