Thursday, 14 June 2018

Cabaret Chaos - The Eagle Inn, Salford.

‘The Eagle Inn presents Cabaret Chaos’ would this float my boat I wondered; my boat had never navigated the choppy waters of cabaret before, so I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived at The Eagle Inn for what the poster promised as “A night of the bold, beautiful and bizarre!”. The cabaret evening serves as a trying-out arena for those with new acts or new material which they wish to air before honing and perfecting their routines. The Eagle Inn is a lovely old-fashioned boozer, with the  venue at the back’ I found a tiny, but excellent space with exposed brickwork, a raised stage, decent lighting and vaunted ceiling. But at the scheduled 8pm start time, none of the 17 seats in the audience had been filled (Yes. 17!).

The cabaret began at 8:20pm and by then there were only 8 people in the audience, which I later realised consisted of three of the actual performers, four of their companions and one rather uncomfortable reviewer. This is the smallest audience I’ve ever been in, and it was apparent to performers and audience alike that we were in for a tough night.

The show was hosted by, as the poster promised, “UK’s top actor, Randolph Tempest”, played by Peter Slater. The character had a suave demeanour undercut by a sweary dismissiveness, but overall seemed completely unfocussed. Much of the hosting was unscripted, but not with the effortless repartee of an experienced comic, more an unprepared, sometimes floundering and certainly inconsistent delivery. If Randolph is the “UK’s Top Actor”, where are the deluded showbiz anecdotes, the affectations of genius or the monstrous ego? Randolph is a character with potential, but the kind of character that needs defining, exaggerating and writing like hell.

It was this latter thought that set the tone for the evening.

Next up was Andrew Yates, who would appear three times in the show, first as himself dressed in tux and white stage make-up. He was reminiscent of Al Jolson dressed as Cabaret’s ‘MC’ and the A Cappella songs were in keeping with the Jolson era. His return as “V”, a Norma Desmond faded diva and later as “Brenda Streisand” offered glimpses of characters that were intriguing and full of comic potential, but they were unscripted, undeveloped and he merely performed songs behind a different mask.

Claire Trivino’s ‘Gerry from Bury’ was a council estate character who offered insight into her relationship with her illegal immigrant boyfriend, her bi-polar friends and her narrow worldview, but very few of her punchlines hit home. When she brought out the Ukulele for a couple of songs, they lifted proceedings with more consistent laughs. The other comedian on the bill was Harry Whittock, whose surreal punchlines were full of promise, but so quick-fire and scattershot that the imagery was never established enough. Whittock’s surrealism was not a subversion of our everyday expectations (except a good gag about broken biscuits), just random imagery that struggled to resonate. Jo Dakin’s monologue “A woman”, was also a mixed bag. Established as a ‘book at bedtime’ reading, Dakin’s Joyce Grenfell style mask slipped to reveal a menopausal, pyromaniacal woman on the brink, who was resentfully caring for her elderly mother. This had comic potential, which is well worth pursuing as Dakin develops this character, but it was strangely at odds with the material she was delivering. The book being read was ‘Miffy gets alcohol poisoning’ and despite also garnering laughs, clashed with the comic set up. What are we watching: A children’s story reader who is mentally unsound, or the straight reading of a children’s book that is highly inappropriate? A world in which both exist simultaneously is not at all believable. It looks like Jo Dakin has two very good monologues on her hand, rather than one muddled one.

Throughout the evening Randolph Tempest returned to introduce acts and impersonations of Christopher Walken and the Bee Gees (both notably written/prepared) showed Peter’s potential as a performer and comic, and why Randolph Tempest is worth putting the time into.

The final slot of the evening was awarded to ‘The Newds’, an experienced accoustic guitar duo whose original songs were well written, well harmonised and catchy. They’re the kind of band that, if they were playing in your local pub, you’d buy another pint just to hear the rest of their set.

As this sprawling review suggests, ‘Cabaret Chaos’ was a mixed bag, full of promising, but deeply undisciplined acts, which led me to question if “chaos” was really the right word for it. All of these acts are lucky and talented enough to have found a voice and a persona for their act. However, what this evening has exposed, indeed the raison d'etre of the evening, is that now they must pack their act into a rucksack and begin the long uphill climb of writing and re-writing to hone their craft, if they are to reach the summits to which they aspire. Cabaret Chaos is a night which I sincerely hope develops in both following and favour.

Reviewer - Benjamin Hassouna-Snith
on - 13/6/18

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