Cabaret Sans Frontières Review – Helen Moore
Now having celebrated its tenth year, the Frome Festival has become an extraordinary annual expression of the town’s talent, both amateur and professional artist(e)s contributing to make it a diverse and engaging experience. And the riotously popular cabaret event perhaps best epitomises this spirit of locally generated quality entertainment. Primed via word of mouth to attend in my most glamorous attire, on Saturday 17th July I joined the audience arriving at the Granary amidst much mutual admiration of feather boas, sequins, purple suits etc, whilst we waited to board ‘the vessel’. This element of willing audience participation continued throughout the evening in all manner of ways – firstly as our tickets were exchanged for 1st class boarding passes and we were security-checked by hostesses wearing badges saying ‘MFI Insecurities’ and wielding light sabres. Contemporary social parody of this kind remained a minor theme throughout the show, although if I were to make one criticism, I feel this could have been developed, making the Cabaret Sans Frontières somewhat edgier and balancing out the dominant bawdy tone, which at times did grow a little tedious. The hostesses’ light sabres were also a clue that this was no ordinary ship – part cruise liner, part space-ship bound for a destination ‘over the edge’ – the Granary had been brilliantly transformed to create an ‘upper deck’ with sick bay and ship’s museum, and on the main deck the helm/cabaret stage, a ‘Mustard Station’, toilets for ‘Androids’ and ‘Arachnids’, plus an amusement arcade with prizes of bizarrely deconstructed soft toys (what fun some the cast must have had decapitating and reassembling bodies and heads!) The attention to detail on this promenade-style set was excellent. At the helm of the ship a ukulele-playing captain was assisted by Number One, his uptight navigator, whilst the crew included a mad French chef and Siegfried, the ship’s engineer, whose job involved overseeing the ship’s supply of ‘whack’ (some of the audience clearly thought this was grog, holding out their glasses to be filled up). Then, despite the discovery of a noisy bunch of pirate stowaways (members of Frome’s Street Bandits), Photo by David Chedgy
we set sail, the ship’s ornate porthole providing vistas of sea monsters and cosmic landscapes via its ‘roving eye’. And at last, with innuendos flying in all directions, we settled back to enjoy the onboard entertainment, the Cabaret Sans Frontières. Spoofiness characterised most acts, but real talent shone through all the performances – the Country and Western Barrett sisters made a slick, hair-sprayed double-act, while the gorgeous Coral sang sweetly about bumping off her husbands (a hilarious series of them featuring alongside her as action-men puppets). Then the entertainment became more exotic and other-worldly – Doktor Mephisto, a dead-pan stage magician in the tradition of Madame Blavatsky, channelled the spirit of ‘Black Samadee, the Rooster King’, to make his glamorous assistant disappear. And we were treated to Karine’s fabulous flamenco dance, accompanied superbly by guitarists from De La Luna; as well as Severiano Silviano de Sousa VII on sousaphone, more pirate antics, and Guido, aka Mister Onedin, singing outrageous Russian arias. During the ‘Interruption’, the audience wandered around the ship, getting a good dusting by a pair of blue-in-the-face cleaners, and visiting the sick bay, where blood-stained medics administered ‘uppers and downers’ and performed ghastly operations. As engaging as this was, for me the most original aspect of the whole show was the Museum of Transuniversal Diversity, where a fabulous spider-woman glowed with UV paint and specimens in glass jars included ‘Pickled Pete’, a talking head who invited us to pour our drinks onto his eyeball and had me unwittingly shaking up his ‘sea cucumber’. Like Doktor Mephisto’s stage magic, the trickery was perfectly executed, and I’m still wondering just exactly how exactly this inter-galactic grotesquery worked! And so, back to the action… despite being only 89% fully functioning, our kooky vessel limped on towards ‘the edge’… until Siegfried discovered “a catastrophic spillage of whack”. The crew’s desperate attempts to stop up the leak was a topical echo of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, and at this juncture the show’s narrative took on a simultaneously more ecological and pantomime twist, with the depleted fuel supplies requiring the audience to power the ship forward, our collectively generated energy being measured on an ‘Alternative Energy Source O’ Meter’. Finally the ship lurched ‘over the edge’. But where exactly had we arrived? The ‘roving eye’ was switched on again, only to reveal glimpses of familiar scenes – a “place populated by beautiful life forms,” announced our captain. This Wizard of Oz-style dénouement – with everyone returning not to Kansas, but to Frome – then culminated with an Oz-like celebration of home, the entire cast and audience joining in a song in praise of Frome Sweet Frome. What perfect way to end a mad-cap evening of home-grown entertainment!