BWW REVIEW: Personal, Political And Poignant, STRANGE BEDFELLOWS's BEDLAM Delivers A Contemporary Twist On Classic Cerebral And Confronting Cabaret
Monday 7th August 2017, 8:30pm, Leadbelly Newtown
Opera's wild children Jacqueline Dark and Kanen Breen, otherwise known as the STRANGE BEDFELLOWS, return to the cabaret stage with their latest offering, BEDLAM. Drawing on classic Weimar Kabarett, this bold and brilliant work is both contemplative and comic as Opera meets mainstream to question the meaning of madness.
Following on from their successful 2015 UNDER THE COVERS show, the premise of this new, ever evolving, feast is that the STRANGE BEDFELLOWS are returning to the stage following a court appointed period in the asylum. Their crime? Debauched and degenerate behaviour that didn't fit with society's views of what was 'proper' and 'acceptable'. The two are under the care of their MD, Dr Daggers, who also happens to be the extremely talented music director Daryl Wallis. Whilst Dr Daggers attempts to keep Dark and Breen under control, (he thankfully fails miserably), these two contemplate the things that have driven them to madness in its many forms and come to the conclusion that there really isn't anything wrong with them, it's the world that's mad and maybe it's time to just escape to a happy place.
The evening, lengthened for the Leadbelly season, draws on references from the original UNDER THE COVERS but can be seen as a stand-alone work as well. Dark and Breen have worked closely with Wallis to create the work which includes operatic, contemporary and classical cabaret references from Schumann and Webern, to Ramones and Simon & Garfunkel, to Brel and Eisler, as well as a few of their own original compositions, all of which are presented with heart and honesty. Breen's Trigger Warning plays on the current spate of warnings provided before many theatre performances and serves as a wonderful summary of what the audience can expect from the show. Dark's Devil's Doorknob, which proved to be a huge hit at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, continued to shock and delight the Sydney audience with the same clever crassness they'd come to appreciate in UNDER THE COVERS whilst the Narcissism Song, also by Dark, proved to strike a chord with a large portion of audiences.
The best thing about Breen and Dark is their ability to open up and be vulnerable as they share their thoughts and feelings on all manner of things from family to politics and the resulting effects on their mental health through the music and the interwoven stories. In addition to some amazing musical arrangements that blend diverse styles, Dark and Breen have mixed comic songs that invite roars of laughter with more sombre sentiments that elicit silence as the audience senses that the subjects should not garner support even if the execution was heartbreakingly beautiful. In an era where so many "cabaret" performers go after the easy wins with tribute shows or one act musicals that give little of the performer and ask less of the audience, Dark and Breen thankfully go out on a limb and realise that their audiences are worthy of so much more as they draw on the classic Kabarett stylings that challenged the establishment and asked their audiences to think about their lives and society. They put their hearts and souls on the line with songs and stories grounded in personal experiences and this is conveyed with raw honesty in their expression. These multiple award-winning performers know how to get inside the music and ensure that they can not only relate to it but can convey this to the audience, making connections that strike far deeper than 'it's a pretty song that I like singing' or 'I want you to feel sad' that so many performers revert to. It is a skill of a true cabaret artist to understand the music, give it a new voice, make it mean something to the performer and therefore mean something to the audience, all while presenting fabulous music. STRANGE BEDFELLOWS have this skill and many more in spades.
Whilst the Leadbelly season of STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: BEDLAM was unfortunately short, hopefully it will come back to Sydney soon and even if you've been one of the lucky ones to catch this season, I'd suggest going again as, as with life, no two nights are completely the same.
Photo: Jeff Busby