Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret

I saw Barry Humphries a couple of years ago at his last Farewell Tour. Naturally he’s back, but this is the real Barry Humphries, a culture-hungry Australian, who 70 years ago while still at school, came across a collection of sheet music published in Vienna in the 1920s, filled with European composers he had never heard of.

He became fascinated by his haul, did lots of research, and discovered the whole “degenerate art” scene that Hitler so successfully suppressed on coming to power. And so he eventually encountered the little known work of Kurt Weill, Max Brand, Wilhelm Grosz, Erwin Schulhoff and many, many others, and even met some of Weimar’s key players, such as Spoliansky and Isherwood.

This show is a delight. It’s an Australian tribute to the whole Weimar cabaret scene, and is well nigh pitch perfect. With the urbane, suave Humphries as conferencier (much cooler than a compere!) we enjoy both known and little known music from this time and place under the more than skillful interpretation of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and the Melbourne cabaret singer Meow Meow.

The orchestra are titfered and trilbyed for the occasion, a smooth looking line-up in black, as befits the atmosphere of the music. Meow Meow, of course, has a great line in headdress, heels and corsetry. Her voice is pure velvet, her German impeccable. Works by Spoliansky and Hollander, Krenek and Jezek, Weill and Eisler bring us so many unfamiliar gems. Toch’s “Geographical Fugue” as Humphries says, is an early forerunner of rap, recited by the whole orchestra, while Abraham’s “Mousie” has Humphries in a most mellow and playful duet with Meow Meow. His voice is pleasing, and he even has an elderly attempt at the tango.

The “climax” of the show, however, could well be Meow Meow’s version of Schulhoff’s “Sonata Erotica” (for gentlemen only), a rendition which leaves Serge Gainsborough and his years later “Je t’aime – Moi non plus” sounding slightly unenthusiastic about sex.

It’s an Australian triumph for this most European of music, made all the more enjoyable by Humphries detailed, often insider, knowledge of the era. He is truly a superb cultural attache – much better than Les Patterson.

Usher Hall 8th and 9th August


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