Adelaide Festival, Australia

Writing and photography by Pigalle, additional images supplied by The Magnets, East End Cabaret, Frisky & Mannish, Limbo, originally published for The Fabulous Times.

The Garden of Unearthly Delights

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Roll up roll up, gasp at the circus thrills, shriek at the cabaret spills, and be amazed by the spectacle that is the Garden of Unearthly Delights.

The Adelaide Festival is one of the highlights in Australia’s cultural calendar. It runs annually, with an action packed four weeks programme, straddling February through to March.  Celebrating the arts across all its forms, it includes theatre, opera, dance, literature, classical and contemporary music. The Adelaide Fringe presents the best in home-grown talent, as well as hosting international artists, spanning cabaret, comedy, circus, film, visual arts and design. As part of the Fringe, the Garden of Unearthly Delights runs an independent programme, presenting a cornucopia of the edgiest shows, staged within a bucolic outdoor setting.

On my sojourn in Adelaide, I sought out the performances that were flying the British flag, bringing their own flavour of quirky eccentricity to the Garden of Unearthly Delights. As the searing heat of the day gave way to dusk, lights twinkled across trees and illuminated the walkways. Fairground rides started up, announcing the arrival of the carnival, drawing in crowds with the promise of spine tingling entertainment.

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The Magnets are a tongue-firmly-in-cheek man band, beefing up the saccharine content of bubblegum pop. With six members to the group, they inject self-deprecating British humour into their female rousing sets. With the release of their cover album All This Time and upcoming shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, they look set to continue their soaring success.

Established in 2000, The Magnets have toured extensively across Australia, Denmark, Germany, India, New Zealand and Russia amongst others, and supported artists such Blondie, Tom Jones and Lisa Stansfield. They have won numerous Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards, and made special appearances on GMTV, Parkinson, MTV and Comic Relief.

They performed tightly choreographed dance routines, singing pitch perfect harmonies and demonstrating impressive vocal ranges, from falsettos all the way through to Barry White baritones. An astounding beat box solo, perfectly replicating a drum kit, was the stand out moment of their show, lifting us higher and higher, bursting through the roof. As the curtain closing finale, the band invited the audience to select their favourite British artists, before singing extracts from each and seamlessly rolling them into the next. The unlikeliest of bedfellows were flawlessly juxtaposed with each other, such as AC/DC with the Beatles, the Sex Pistols with One Direction, leaving the audience magnetised, whooping and hollering after their tailcoats.

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East End Cabaret comprises of musical comedy double act Bernadette Byrne, as the highly strung femme fatale, and Victor Victoria, as the gender-bending instrumentalist. Crowned one of the Top Ten Cabaret Artists of 2011 by Time Out London, and winning ‘Best Cabaret Award’ at the Adelaide Fringe, they will be blazing a salacious trail filled with risqué original songs and raunchy improvisations in their next show, Dirty Talk, taking place at the Edinburgh Fringe festival.

Their Notoriously Kinky show in Adelaide emanated more than a whiff of Sally Bowle’s bedsit. In the salubrious style of Weimer Kabaret, witty repartees rolled off the innuendo expressway, with bawdy tales of regrettable encounters in the night. Victy played a plethora of instruments, from the accordion to the musical saw, with heart breaking pathos. Hysterically funny, ribald spats ensued as she was subjected to blow by blow accounts of Bernadette’s never ending stream of lovers. Audience interactions cranked up the embarrassment factor, as the diva prowled the audience seeking her perfect playmate, leaving the unlucky person foisted onto the stage thinking of all the gin joints in this town they had to pick this one. The audience revelled in the outrageous tales, from ping-pong ball exploits to necrophilia, climaxing with demands for more filthy encores.

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Named after two characters that appear in Byron’s satirical poem Don Juan, Frisky & Mannish were formed in 2008, as a musical comedy double act parodying pop culture. They have won critical acclaim, wooed adoring fans and won several awards along the way, most recently scooping up the 2013 Adelaide Fringe Weekly Award.

As we waited for Frisky & Mannish to emerge, we were hyped with a video of them  impersonating BBC newscasters and hyperactive MTV presenters, reporting on their phenomenal ascension to fame. On cue, they swept in with a superstar entry, blowing up the stage like a dynamite keg and proving they were more than a match for the spoof build up.  With talents far bigger than the stage could contain, they proceeded to unleash their Extra-Curricular Activities with high voltage energy, decimating the image of wannabe fame monsters. They took deadly aim, spearing the writhing desperations and shameless vanity of yet another over produced strumpet, sending up their sycophantic lust for fame.

We were mere putty in their hands, waving our arms in the air like we just didn’t care as they run the gamut of lyrical clichés. Frisky belted the tunes out in a gut busting, lung expanding, soul diva voice, while Mannish matched her delivery, mercilessly pounding at the keyboard. No reverence was spared as the Spice Girls were given a down and dirrrty ragamuffin makeover, the warbling heights of operatic notes were scaled, and L’il Kim was so perfectly impersonated, that had she been there she would have checked over her shoulder for an echo. The show finished all too soon, leaving us sobbing for more, so much more, as Frisky & Mannish left the building in a trail of glitter star dust.

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Take a walk on the wild side with Limbo, the darker and sexier counterpart to populist shows such as La Clique and La Soiree. Created by Australian production house Strut and Fret, as the follow up to the acclaimed Cantina, Limbo is currently wowing audiences with its five-month run at the London Wonderground festival at the Southbank Centre.

There was a palpable sense of excitement as I joined the queue snaking around the Spiegeltent, for the world premiere. Once inside the crimson big top, we entered the atmosphere of an illegal speakeasy. This added to the thrill, conjuring up images of policemen breaking into the den of iniquity, pressing charges over forbidden pleasures. The musicians were placed on stage, as a gypsy beat boxing band meets 1970s super fly, under the experimental musical direction of Sxip Shirely. This made us privy to the relationship between them and the performers, playing off each other and adding to the sense of visceral rawness.

The multi-talented six-man cast were joined by the astounding aerialist Evelyne Allard, dressed in white feathers, as the heavenly foil to Heather Holiday’s tattooed Betty Boop, injecting pixie va-va-voom to the proceedings. The show depicted them forever displaced, suspended between worlds. Acclaimed UK illusionist Paul Kieve was drafted in to create heart-stopping illusions, as the backdrop to jaw dropping contortions, acrobatic hand balances and a death-defying swinging pole sequence. The show built up to a sizzling finale, the cast almost setting themselves, the stage and us on fire. If this is what falling from grace is like, then hell never looked this good.

“The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live”  – Auguste Rodin

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