I Can Keep a Secret
Judith Wright Centre & Little Black Dress Creatives
Judith Wright Centre Shopfront
12 – 15 November 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
I’d heard about this fun show, which came out of the collaboration between four Queensland Con students with musical tastes reaching beyond their operatic studies. One of our multi talented writers, Michelle Bull, featured in the original cast and another, Guy Frawley, reviewed the first season. This is the Queensland Cabaret Festival remount, directed by Cienda McNamara. Having experienced Women In Voice (their 21st “birthday party” last Saturday night at Flinders Performance Centre in Buderim), I was keen to see this comparatively new group.
Don’t mistake Babushka for a cheap copy of anything we’ve seen before. But do demand more because they’re capable of delivering it.
The premise is all wicked little secrets and “glorious, guilty pleasures”; it’s a (mostly) upbeat show, with the odd – and I mean odd – inclusion about a serial killer. As far as shock factor goes, this show is more for those who are looking for a bit of sophisticated fun and laughter under the guise of cheeky secret sharing.
Interestingly, ArtTour’s brief for I Can Keep A Secret specifies a black box theatre venue, but the Shopfront at the Judy, without any decoration, fits that requirement a little too well. It’s A BLACK BOX. In the context, it’s a confessional, but ideally, I imagine Babushka would perform in sumptuous surrounds, or on the main stage bathed in beautiful light and lounging across lush furnishings. The assumption is no doubt that the singers need nothing more than a mic (and Matt Sarner on keys). Let’s call it rock bottom budget confidence.
The girls are gorgeous and they wear their frocks well. Arleigh McCormack is emerald green glam cruise ship style, She’s fab, but Bethan Ellsmore’s Embraceable You unnecessarily encumbers McCormack’s rendition of The Other Woman; it over-complicates that excruciatingly vulnerable moment. Somebody probably thought it clever. So much of this show is overdone, and what I’d love to see instead of a cabaret recipe half-baked (Ellsmore told bmag that cabaret’s lack of rules appeals to her), I’d love to see the girls chill out and trust the material a little more, as well as their obvious talent, which will bring about their own version of the style. Perhaps, like Women in Voice, it will come with a few more years of doing the work and experiencing other work. I hope they’ve seen superstars such as Meow Meow, Christie Whelan-Brown and Naomi Price at work. These are the girls who make cabaret look (and sound) dead easy and any aspiring performer in this genre should be hell bent on studying the hot tips and tricks contained within their shows.
Ellsmore’s Portishead is a little slicker and sexier than we’d heard previously, but her Gotye? Not so much. And she seems a little unsure in those shoes…oops. I wouldn’t usually mention it but there’s something not quite right on the night, not quite settled enough. Should we (all) have had more to drink?! Next time? Tequila!
Alicia Cush’s mother schtick is some of the funniest stuff of the night. Hers is the most operatic performance (Ellsmore’s, the most “dramatic”). An amusing number about how she came to be pregnant for the last two Babushka seasons has most of the opening night audience in stitches.
Judy Hainsworth’s Babushka is another terrific moment but it ends abruptly and there’s another moment of…something. During the awkward pause I wonder if there might be a Kate Bush show in the making. Hainsworth’s comedy is more often the most natural and her connection with the audience is real, even up close (we are up closer than expected, at a table dead centre front row). Her encore performance is full of awesome angry faces for a wild White Wedding conclusion. In fact, the opening number (a mash up of Bizet’s Carmen and Kylie’s Confide in Me) and the finale are the perfect bookends and perhaps, more than anything else, it’s a case of KISS: Keep it Simple Sweethearts. I think they thought they already had but when the pace lags it’s because the girls stick to their rehearsed “patter” and wait the full length of their intros. Less is more. Make it up. Break the rules. Relax.
I Can Keep A Secret is certainly a fun, fine, enjoyable night out; the talent is easy to appreciate. Babushka will continue to come across as slick cabaret, but I ‘reckon these girls can be slicker yet, and in the increasingly competitive global cabaret market, they’ll need to be.