Where the Wild Roses Grow

Where the Wild Roses Grow

Babushka Cabaret

10th & 12th May 2012

Reviewed by Sarah Knight

When I Google mapped (is that a verb?) the venue for Babushka Cabaret’s show Where the Wild Roses Grow, there was no venue…as such.

Situated at Hamilton Reach on Brisbane’s north side, in an abandoned warehouse, this is a typical Anywhere Theatre Festival venue.  The Anywhere Festival, in its second year, ‘reconnects audiences and communities with theatre, with storytelling and with performance… anywhere.’

As I enter the street for this ‘spooky warehouse’, as described on Babushka’s website, I am already getting the vibe for this show. Described as ’tales of murderous passion’, this is exactly the kind of place you would dump a body. Seeing no signposts I gingerly follow a car into what seems…well… let’s just say that parking was NOT an issue.  On a vast abandoned lot on the edge of the Brisbane River, where new cars were once unloaded from cargo ships, stands a small solitary warehouse. From the warehouse drenched in colourful lights, I can hear the sounds of Babushka’s femme fatales warming up so am relieved, this is the right spot.

The audience enters the warehouse through a door marked ‘bulk cargo’. Inside is pleasantly warm and cosy, softly lit with hues of blue and red. The intimate audience of 50 are set close to the staging area. Candelabras complete with burning candles send thin waxy trails of smoke up into the high ceiling. Slightly right of centre sits an electric piano. At the back are stairs that lead to a mezzanine office flooded with red light, where the warehouse foreman once worked.

The girls begin the show with Where the Wild Roses Grow by Nick Cave. Unamplified and a capella, dressed in black and red, the girls stand just inside the upstairs office doorway.  I am instantly struck by the power and beauty of their classically trained blended voices, which fills the upper reaches of the warehouse.

The show includes an eclectic selection of songs like Faure’s art song Prison, I’d Love to Kill You With a Kiss by Katie Melua and Sufjan Steven’s song about serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

The threads that connect the pieces of verse and narration include stories of murder and death. Like in the case of Dido’s Lament the the story of Gillian Barber who jumped from Brisbane’s Story Bridge to her death in 1996.

Babushka Cabaret’s line-up has changed since I last saw them. Missing are Alicia Cush (on maternity leave) and the hilarious Laura Coutts. Fantastic regulars Bethan Ellsmore and Michelle Bull are back and the beautiful, mezzo soprano Jade Moffat takes a guest spot. Moffat, seemingly new to cabaret performance does not exude the confidence of the rest of the group. This thought is momentarily dispelled with her stunning rendition of Purcell’s Dido’s Lament. Sung from the upper balcony, her voice, like syrup for the soul, fills the space and casts a spell on the audience.

Matthew Samer on keys is such a delightful accompanist. Positioned centre stage he is right in the thick of it, which is great. He has an eager smile and seems to enjoy the show, even chuckling at the jokes as he plays.

Half way through I became confused by the show’s direction; energy lagged and some narration threads seemed forced. I loved the absence of amplification that created a more intimate bond between performer and audience, however, at times lyrics were lost, mainly due to some overbearing keys. The tight harmonies and symbiotic singing this group are capable of was at times missing as well.

Ellsmore stole the show for me. On stage she is captivating. She has a carefree, take me as I am manner, which makes me watch her even more. Ellsmore switches from violin to playing the keys to belting her own original number Down by the Creek to ‘pinging’ top Cs (or higher) with ease.

The highlight performance of the night was Greenkeeper’s Lotion, a song about a killer (from the movie Silence of the Lambs) who gets girls to put lotion on their skin, then fillets them and makes clothes out of their skin and wears it. The Babushka girls were creepy and hilarious in this number and this performance sums-up everything I like about them. The gals of Babushka Cabaret may be classically trained but they are no self obsessed woofy opera singers. They are sexy, sassy and ready to tackle the absurd. Babushka Cabaret. Watch-out for their next cabaret mash-up.


Babushka Cabaret


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