Cabaret from the Shadows
Cabaret from the Shadows
Unity Theatre, Liverpool
“We have come to read your mind / We don’t know what we will find.”
With this little ditty, Cabaret from the Shadows, announce their arrival on stage. In truth, they will find very little from tonight’s tight-mouthed crowd; first names have to be drawn out like wisdom teeth, and one punter could not evade the issue of what he does for a living more artfully and doggedly if his job title had a double-o prefix and he was working OHMSS.
Happily, charm, confidence and guile carry Carmen Arquelladas (Spain), Duncan Cameron (Canada), Leebo Luby (Liverpool), Miwa Nagai (Japan) and Simone Tani (Italy) beyond their audience’s inhibitions and into an entertaining, varied set that passes in two blinks of an eye. The pace is fast and occasionally furious—don’t like this routine? that’s okay, there’ll be another along in a couple of minutes.
There is an air of the fabulously grotesque hanging over proceedings—much mugging, clowning and posturing, sound musicianship and occasional dancing. Some of the content borders on satire, whilst at other points it is absurd or even downright silly. An admiring comment on a woman’s skirt quickly spirals into satiric slut-shaming; breast and buttock enhancers are minced and served up like fish and chips, wrapped in Page 3. Next minute, a chicken is singing a lovesong (very funny).
It puts me in mind of one of those nights when you get home, drunk and hungry, from a wild night out with your mates. Cupboard, fridge and freezer are raided and whatever turns up is microwaved and thrown onto the plate. Some of what is ladled out this evening is culturally-loaded: “paint me yellow,” Nagai instructs a “volunteer”, after she has pranced around, draped in a kimono, fluttering a fan. Moments later, Arquelladas performs a manic flamenco—part Dopey, part zombie. Sometimes you can sense the crowd struggling to know what to make of it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Not all of this comes off—partly because it’s not always clear what we’re being asked to do: mock the established order, or peer into our own shadowy souls. The most powerful moment is undoubtedly when the audience, under instruction to throw things at the performers, is suddenly confronted with a figure in a niqab, centre stage. You can almost hear the sharp intake of breath and there is a definite lull, before the rain of (harmless paper) projectiles resumes.
Interspersed are scenes both bizarre and silly: enormous water-pistol breasts (go see); the singing chicken; a voodoo doll that fights back; Cameron struggling to play harmonica while strapped into a straitjacket (my personal favourite moment of the night).
It’s an hour-long show (fitting the fringe festivals where it’s been a deserved hit) and that feels about right. The finale is total balls (Cabaret from the Shadows won’t be in the least offended). All part of the fun.
A packed auditorium and a rousing ovation. Plenty of laughter, plus a little food for thought. Oh, and the bars are still open. A fine night had by all, I’d say.
Reviewer: Martin Thomasson