Cabaret of life

COME HEAR THE MUSIC PLAY

WORDS MATT GILBERTSON
MAIN PHOTOGRAPHY MATT TURNER

A $90 million redevelopment of the Adelaide Festival Centre is set to take centre stage at this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Rather than resist the rubble — which is a major building block in a broader $900 million Riverbank precinct revitalisation project — CabFest 2017 custodians Eddie Perfect and Ali McGregor have harnessed the drama to turn the tables on the genre as we know it.CabaretLife_1

“We really thought we had to work with what was happening in the venue and — because there are so many changes and the site has turned on its head — where the focus of the festival will be,” says McGregor.

“We wanted to embrace the changes and give an underlying sense of revolution because cabaret also has a history of being a revolutionary genre. The shows have all been revolutionary in the genre of cabaret to a degree, I think.”

Over 16 days and nights the Adelaide Cabaret Festival will feature more than 430 artists in 147 performances. It will host 58 international artists from as far afield as the US, Ireland, UK and Japan as well as more than 372 Australian performers, including 234 from SA. The 2017 Festival will showcase 17 world premieres, five Australian premieres, 25 Adelaide premieres as well as 17 Adelaide exclusives. Tickets to the hottest musical in town, Matilda, have already been walking out the door and the show will play for the entirety of the festival.

For the first time, a Spiegeltent will join the party to make up for space lost during the renovations, giving the Festival Centre an extra venue. Her Majesty’s Theatre on Adelaide’s Grote St will play host to the ever-popular Opening Night Variety Gala as well as this year’s headliner, Alan Cumming, among many others.

“As always, we have the world’s best cabaret artists on hand to dig under the comfortable outer layers of virtue, love, war, propriety and truth,” says Perfect.

Now in its 17th year, Adelaide’s beloved CabFest has come a long way, having grown from niche appeal to global phenomenon.

The festival’s founding father, Frank Ford, who is also widely credited as one of the major forces behind the Adelaide Fringe, says its main objective was to give cabaret an alternative home outside of the Fringe, which in early 2000 had “become overrun by the comedians”.

“The Fringe was meant to be a national showcase for new work and new talent, which I was thinking meant dance, composers, theatre and artists,” Ford says.

“All of a sudden, the big enCabaretLife_2trepreneurs discovered that they could play Adelaide before the Melbourne Comedy Festival and then there was this great flood of comedians.” Ford’s initial thought was to take the comedians and put them in their own festival but, after more research, he realised the great link between cabaret and comedy and the first CabFest was born.

“That first year, in 2001 when Julia Holt was the artistic director, we had Nina Simone as the opening act and the day we put out the program with her on the front, she sent an email saying ‘no, I’m not coming to Australia now, it’s too far away and I’m too tired’,” Ford recalls.

“My sister had seen Caroline O’Connor with her four dancers doing their show in Sydney and she said it was fabulous, so we got her over and she was just dynamite and really saved the day.”

“The last time Caroline was here, a few years ago, I was telling this story and she said ‘you know, my career took off after that festival’.”

Performer David Campbell took over as artistic director in 2009 and audiences grew by their thousands. Campbell was followed by Australian songbird Kate Ceberano from 2012 to 2014 and the legendary Barry Humphries directed one special year in 2015. Now Perfect and McGregor, mainstays on many a CabFest bill over the years, have stepped in as artistic directors with one clear objective — to raise the roof at not only the Adelaide Festival Centre, but to renovate the entire genre.