PERTH INTERNATIONAL CABARET FESTIVAL
HIS MAJESTY’S THEATRE
Running from 19-27 June at His Majesty’s Theatre, the very first installation of Perth International Cabaret Festival (PICF) is absolutely guaranteed to become a highly sought after fixture on Perth’s annual ‘things you need to do’ calendar. This year’s event features the a diverse range of cabaret artists from across the nation and promises to put a warm winter glow into the west end of Perth city and create a buzz of excitement.
…the true definition of cabaret is that it’s storytelling set to music and it’s usually performed in an intimate space, and often includes drinks and food.Ali Welburn, Co-founder PICF
What’s that you say? Cabaret? That’s a bit old timey, isn’t it? That’s what I thought, so we put in a call to get the word from one of the co-founders of PICF, Ali Welburn, on what’s going to be happening over at His Majesty’s Theatre towards the end of June.
Asked what cabaret means in the 21st Century, Welburn started out by saying, “The first thing is to start by defining what it’s not. This is where it can become interesting, as the misconception is that cabaret is more of a variety show, it’s a bit of burlesque, it’s a magic act, there might be a song or two and so on. While they can certainly be part of the cabaret festival, the true definition of cabaret is that it’s storytelling set to music and it’s usually performed in an intimate space, and often includes drinks and food.
“Cabaret is much more than that. It’s very much about breaking the fourth wall, So, unlike a musical, which happens on a stage and it’s like the audience isn’t actually there, cabaret breaks that fourth wall and very much includes the audience. It acknowledges that the audience is there and gets down amongst the audience if they possibly can as well.
“It also means that no two shows are ever the same.”
What Welburn and her partner in the Festival, Graham Lovelock, are aiming for here is a series of intimate shows that draw in the audience to become part of the stories being told. Not in the fringey, awkward, come up on stage and spend the next 45 minutes pretending to get married to me kind of way (yes, it happens!), but in a setting and atmosphere that treats audiences like old friends and invites them to live the performers’ stories with them.
With international cabaret diva sensation, Meow Meow, leading the charge, the master of intricate guitar tapestries and textural arrangements, Lior, and exquisite Noongar singer, Gina Williams, and her musical partner, award-winning guitarist, Guy Ghouse, amongst the artists set to activate spaces throughout His Majesty’s Theatre during PICF, this is going to be more than just special, it will be an event not to be missed.
I asked Welburn the most difficult of questions, who did she think would be the standout performers? Her responses highlighted the diversity of PICF’s programming, culturally and in the age and experience of the performers.
“We’ve got a really diverse program,” said Welburn, “particularly with age. Our youngest performer is a local Perth performer by the name of Jamie Mykaela, who is 23, and our oldest performer is Carlotta at 78.
“We also thought it was fitting to open the festival with the world’s oldest living culture in the First Nations performers of Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse,” Welburn continued, beginning to dig into the program’s highlights. “They’ve taken their original production of Koorlangka and reimagined it, they’ve added extra songs, extra stories extra experiences, and that’s where the ‘reimagined’ title comes from.
“We are also including a smoking ceremony and welcome to country as part of that, so that becomes our very special opening night on Saturday the 19th of June.
“We’ve also got Carlotta, and ,this is from her own description… She’s an Australian icon, political activist and living legend. We certainly know that Carlotta has lived a very colourful life. Her show, The Party’s Over, which is kind of her farewell tour, is all about her life and what it was like to live her life as a star of Les Girls, to be a transgender woman in the 70s and 80s and what that was like for her in Kings Cross and Sydney. So ,you can imagine there are some very colourful tales that go with that. Carlotta is a very interesting person just full stop.
“A show that I was lucky enough to see at the Adelaide cabaret festival in 2019 is Dragon Lady – The Many Lives And Deaths Of Anna May Wong. The star of this show is Fiona Choi. Some of your readers might recognise her from the SBS TV show, The Family Law. Fiona is an incredible actor; she’s also spent time in Hollywood herself and she stumbled across the story of Anna May Wong, who was Hollywood’s first Chinese movie star in the 1920s and 30s. She was always typecast, so she was often either the concubine or the mistress or the villain, and she could never quite crack the lead role in any of her movies. Fiona takes that story and takes audiences through the journey of Anna May Wong both on and off the stage, but she also brings it into the current time where she calls out Hollywood for still not being able to look past an Asian face in terms of their casting.
“We’ve also got Steven Oliver, who is very well known for his ABC TV hit series, Black Comedy. He brings his show all about growing up as a gay Indigenous man and his stories of love and loss and hope and courage. It’s moving, it’s hilarious, it takes you right through the whole gamut of emotions and his onstage partner is our own artistic director, Michael Griffiths. They worked together on this production and it’s come up an absolute treat.
“Of course, there’s Lior, who is bringing a back catalogue of favourite songs but also New songs from an album that he’s about to release called, Animal In Hiding. He’s going to be joined by a local string quartet and also and an emerging artists that he’s working a lot with, Domini Forster. I’ve seen Lior in a number of settings and it doesn’t matter where he goes, he tells a darned good story.
“We round out the week with the cabaret diva herself, Meow Meow. She is on the Saturday night, the 26th of June and she will bring a whole lot of amazing songs and jaw dropping stories. You never quite know what’s going to happen with Meow, but you know it’s going to be a fun ride.”
These are only the highlights, the full PICF program is included at the end of this article. Glance through it and you’ll see that there’s a whole lot more for you to get a taste of, including Perth’s own master of the blues, Rick Steele, who we’re certain will have a tall tale or three to tell from across his enormously successful career in music.
One of the other stars of PICF is bound to be the venue, His Majesty’s Theatre. PICF’s program takes advantage of every available space in His Majesty’s and will let patrons flow easily from show to show, seeing multiple events in one night, if they wish, and stopping in for some delicious food and drink along the way.
“We chose His Majesty’s Theatre for a couple of reasons,” said Welburn. “Over the summer, festivals are synonymous with the Northbridge area, so we wanted to create a separate and a different hub and for us it was all about his majesty’s. We didn’t even have a second option on the list, it was always going to be about activating the West End of the city. Being winter, we also saw that venue as being warm and cosy, you can go between the different spaces in the venue without having to step outside into the cold. We’ve activated the whole building, the main auditorium is activated, so is downstairs but we are also using the dress circle bar as a performance space, and we’ve deliberately programmed stuff so you can see several shows in one night.
“And of course you can stop in at the cafe in between. They’ve designed a menu that’s all around tapas and sharing, so it’s about grabbing quick bites between shows.
“It’s a great storytelling building, it’s also gone through some fabulous renovation. If people haven’t seen it yet, I certainly encourage everyone to go along and have a look. It’s a mix of old and new with a gorgeous not to the era in which the building was created, so it’s very respectful of its heritage, but it’s got a really stunning modern twist on it as well. if you imagine New York industrial style with a really classy art deco, that gives everyone a really good idea what to expect.”
And, if none of that gets you over the line, Welburn finished up by saying, “We’re even going to have a signature gin cocktail.”
Perth International Cabaret Festival has it all!
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PERTH INTERNATIONAL CABARET FESTIVAL
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LIOR: ANIMAL IN HIDING
This performance sees one of Australia’s most successful and respected singer/songwriters, backed by a string quartet and joined by emerging singer/songwriter Domini Forster, pre-viewing songs from ‘Animal in Hiding’ a new collaborative project. These songs, rooted in personal storytelling, involve intricate guitar tapestries and textural arrangements. Lior will also draw from his vast back catalogue of recordings, including his very successful ‘Autumn Flow’ album.
Get ready for post-post-modern diva Meow Meow to hynotise, inspire and terrify as she has done to audiences globally with her unique creations and sell-out seasons from New York’s Lincoln Center and Berlin’s Bar Jeder Vernuft to London’s West End and the Sydney Opera House. Named one of the “Top Performers of the Year” by The New Yorker, Meow Meow has been called “sensational” (The Times, UK) and a “phenomenon by the Australian press.
The festival has also attracted an eclectic mix of artists and shows making their World or West Australian premiere as well as some favourites who are back in Perth by popular demand, including:
Michael Griffiths GREATEST HITS (WA Premiere): Helpmann Award winner and Downstairs at the Maj repeat offender Michael Griffiths, has dusted off his LPs and perused his one-man shows to curate a solid gold line-up of his favourite tunes for your listening pleasure. From Madonna to Cole Porter, Kylie Minogue to A-ha, Eurythmics to the Violent Femmes, every song’s a feel-good winner, with a three-piece band.
Amelia Ryan & Libby O’Donovan UNSUNG (WA Premiere): Join this powerhouse duo for a loud, proud, raucous celebration of our original Australian Pop & Rock Divas. In both a ‘vibrant and vital’ (Advertiser) exploration of life in the 1960s, hear the thoroughly entertaining stories and songs that blazed the trails for generations of women to come. With music from Lynne Randell, Little Patti, Judy Stone, Marcie Jones, Wendy Saddington, Margret Roadknight, and more, it’s an uplifting homage that brings these 60s Singers into their rightful place in music history!
Carlotta THE PARTY’S OVER (WA premiere): Australian icon, political activist and living legend, Carlotta has led an extraordinary life: good times, bum times, she’s seen them all my dear, she’s still here. Announcing her retirement this year on her 78th birthday, this is your very last chance to see her under the bright lights of the stage where she has wreaked havoc for almost 60 years.
Dean Misdale LIFE’S A DRAG: What do a Global pandemic, tinder date from hell and a primary school cleaner have in common with a Drag Queen? Well, you’re about to find out as Perth Drag performer Dean Misdale takes you on a reality shaking behind the scenes look of what it really takes to be a QUEEN and survive life’s twist and turns amongst the glamour filled world of DRAG.
Fiona Choi DRAGON LADY – THE MANY LIVES & DEATHS OF ANNA MAY WONG (WA Premiere): From immigrant’s daughter to Hollywood’s first Chinese movie star to international style icon, Anna May Wong’s career spanned silent film, talkies, Broadway, cabaret and television before she was thwarted by alcoholism and an industry unwilling to see past her Asian face. Fiona Choi (The Family Law, The Letdown, Golden Shield) captivates as Anna May in an intimate performance as she travels through Anna May’s past and tackles her demons.
Gina Williams & Guy Ghouse KALYAKOORL, NGALAK WARANGKA (Forever We Sing): Noongar Singer Gina Williams and collaborator, guitarist Guy Ghouse have brought wondrous musical journeys to audiences across the world by connecting them through the power of music. Join Gina and Guy in the intimate space of Downstairs at the Maj to witness the beautiful renaissance of language through song.
Jamie Mykaela DADDY: The innocent, the nymphet, the groupie and the wh*re collide in a mess of no-holds-barred comedy, rock’n’roll, and signature scathing wit. Perth’s cult favourite comedy-cabaret riot grrrl is ruining all her own – and your dad’s – favourite songs, calling out their singers’ underage backstage exploits, and delving into the wonderful world of 1970s groupie culture.
Louise Anton ONE WOMAN, ONE PIANO, ONE VOICE (Perth Premiere): Celebrating 40 years in music Louise Anton’s soaring vocal range, melodic piano style, personal interpretations and stories, both funny and poignant, are interwoven with classics from Burt Bacharach, Barbra Streisand, Nina Simone and Billy Joel to contemporary hits and her own outstanding original compositions.
Lucy Williamson with Joe Louis Robinson LUCY & JUDY (WA Premiere): Award-winning West End leading lady Lucy Williamson presents an evening of Judy Garland’s songs, stories and iconic personality. Fresh from playing a successful critically acclaimed run as Judy Garland in the Boy From Oz at Crown Theatre, she is joined by Music Director Joe Louis Robinson on piano, recreating and reimagining the legendary songbook.
Michaela Burger & Greg Wain EXPOSING EDITH: A multi-award-winning cabaret tale of the legendary French singer Edith Piaf. A breath-taking show that features Piaf’s classics punctuated with a collection of extraordinary stories of Piaf’s life.
PERTH CABARET COLLECTIVE PLAYS AMORE (World Premiere): A show all about love. Songs that make us swoon, songs that remind of someone special and songs that remind us that self love is the most important type of all! Prepare to wear your heart on your sleeve and be taken on a deep dive through the funniest, saddest and most uplifting aspects of love.
Rick Steele ONCE UPON A TIME (World Premiere): A chronological journey of a career lasting 50 years, Rick Steele has been an audience favourite in WA, in his homeland NZ and around the world. Hear never before told tales of rock ‘n’ roll life on the road, mixed up with stunning originals and classic covers.
Selina Jenkins BOOBS (WA Premiere): BOOBS is a ground-breaking tale of mammary proportions that follows one woman and her two boobs through a life changing decision, a million opinions, a natural disaster and an ‘Australian first’.
Steven Oliver: BIGGER AND BLACKER (WA Premiere): From ABC’s hit TV series Black Comedy Steven brings his critically acclaimed cabaret show direct from Sydney Opera House. Weaving comedy and contemplation though stories of love and loss, Oliver mines his own life to reflect on fame, friendship and the power of music (accompanied by Michael Griffiths).
THAT’S NOT YOUR LIGHT, JOHN! An Evening with John O’Hara (World Premiere): Celebrating 20 years in showbiz, this downstairs favourite is back with a brand-new show; an intimate evening of story and song, sharing all the best (and sometimes worst) bits of a life spent on the road.
UPLATE DOWNSTAIRS hosted by Michael Griffiths: A revolving stage of visiting and local cabaret artists where no two shows are ever the same. Drop in, you never know who you might see!