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BWW Reviews: ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2015: MY VAGABOND BOAT Takes A German Kabarett Inspired Look At Refugees

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 6th June 2015

Rooted in Weimar era German Kabarett, with touches of Dadaism evident, My Vagabond Boat is about loss, enforced travel, and seeking new lives. The title is taken from the second line of Max Raabe's Youkali. Directed by Andrew Ross, with musical direction and arrangements by Nigel Ubrihien, the production was co-written by Stephen Anderson, Rowan Witt, Gillian Cosgriff, and Mitchell Butel, and Ubrihien, and was performed by Ubrihien, Cosgriff, and Butel.

That is a formidable team of talented and experienced artists all of whom are knowledgeable about the intrinsic qualities of German Kabarett between the wars, and its socio-political importance. We begin in their Berlin with this long and often dark history of displacement.

First, though, we get a mix of We Will Rock You and I Love Rock and Roll, setting up the idea of sea travel. Not quite the same rocking and rolling of a ship, but we get the idea.

Friedrich Hollaender, Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, Lotte Lenya, and many others involved in Kabarett and musical theatre at this time were forced to flee Germany, with the rise of the anti-Semitic Nazi Party threatening their lives, travelling by ship to the USA to start again. The music of these composers leads us into this marvellous production.

As the rocking and rolling eases Cosgriff, then Butel and finally Ubrihien take a turn at their interpretation of Weill's Surabaya Johnny, garnering a good many laughs. Butel explains My Gorilla has a Villa in the Zoo, and he told us all about it in song, courtesy of composer, Hans Albers. Then came an interesting duet with Butel on the telephone and Cosgriff hoping for a call. While Butel is busy singing Hello Hello, and getting nowhere, Cosgriff is singing Carly Rae Jepson's Call Me Maybe, but a good bit better than Jepson does.

Weill's Bilbao Song couldn't be left out, as they read letters between Weill and his wife Lotte Lenya, and from Hollaender to his daughter. There was even a little of Claude Debussy's music as a lead in to Falling in Love Again, as the letters went to and fro.

Leaving his piano, which was taken over by Cosgriff, Ubrihien then became the refugee in a fez, Tibor the Magnificent, in a comic monologue that poked fun at the current Australian Government and their treatment of refugees, among other things. With his piano accordion, he launched into an hilarious rendition of Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

Staying with the feeling of the era, far more recent songs were included and, of course, we moved forward in time to equally recent sea travels, from death to new shores seeking refuge. This can lead to a feeling of isolation and loneliness and, to overcome it, Cosgriff told us what she does, in the Joe Iconis song, Party Hat, with Butel helping out with his wonderful sense of comic timing.

The pace never flagged for a moment as song followed song, with extremely funny patter, and visual clues that you needed to see to appreciate. There was a powerfully poignant story told by a refugee, marvellously narrated by Butel, among the many lighter moments, and still more darkness ahead.

They are joined by a superb trio of musicians: Vanessa Tametta, violin, Alana Dawes, bass, and John McDermott, drums. They are not merely accompanists, though, but are firmly entwined in the production due to the intimate interconnection of the fine musical arrangements with the storyline.

This was the world première of this remarkable work and so it should be around for a while, giving other audiences in other cities a chance to experience the emotional ebb and flow created by these three exceptional performers. If it comes your way, go and see it.


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From This Author Barry Lenny