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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Monday, October 10, 2011

Apocalypse: A Glamorously Ugly Cabaret


Published in Northings


CABARET is the artform we associate with decadence and a kind of end-of-the-world desperation. Perhaps the Emperor Nero was its first practitioner as he fiddled while Rome burned. Most commonly, it is the form we attribute to the nightclubs of 1930s Berlin when the Nazis were on the rise, as related in Kander and Ebb's musical Cabaret.

Now in 2011, playwright John Clancy has found himself drawn to cabaret again. He has observed the spate of earthquakes, tsunamis and man-made catastrophes that have beset the world in recent times, as well as the related trade in prophesies of doom from religious extremists. More pertinently, he has noticed the majority of the world's population is living in poverty, many fear for their lives because of war or famine, and global warming is starting to take its toll. At the same time, a western elite - by which he means you and me - continue to enjoy a level of wealth far in excess of nearly everyone else on the planet.

This to him is decadence, even if the people burning up fuel, donating to good causes and signing right-on petitions don't realise as much.

So although Apocalypse: A Glamorously Ugly Cabaret takes the form of bright and breezy burlesque entertainment, its content is dark and polemical. We sit round cabaret tables with our drinks, while actors Catherine Gillard and Nancy Walsh deliver songs and sketches on a small stage complete with its own red curtains. They could be performing throw-away gags and whimsical chart-toppers, but in fact, they are digging up uncomfortable truths about the huge imbalance of global wealth and the apparent complacency of the privileged who are content not to do anything about it.

Looking like they've already survived the warning shots of an impending apocalypse, their faces a mess of smeared make-up, Gillard and Walsh alternate between being cabaret divas, counting down the minutes to the end of the world, and middle-class liberals, admitting their commitment to good causes is only skin deep (and in the case of race relations, not even as deep as that).

As satire, it raises questions rather than giving answers (I don't imagine Clancy has renounced his own decadent western ways) and it runs the risk of making the audience feel powerless. At its best, though it is both blackly funny and polemical. On the opening night of this debut production by the Occasional Cabaret, formed by ex-members of the defunct Benchtours, it also seems under-rehearsed. There are moments when Gillard and Walsh get under the material, but moments too when they stumble. It means the comedy can be muted and the script's potential not fully realised, although it's likely to get slicker as the show tours north. (Pic: Marc Marnie)

 
© Mark Fisher 2011
 
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