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Mark Shenton’s week: In a theatre far, far away…

A scene from Before I leave at the Sherman, Cardiff. Photo: Farrows Creative/National Theatre Wales
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Last summer, I wanted to be in Sydney in Australia to see Cate Blanchett (possibly my favourite screen actress) in The Present, a play she was doing at Sydney Theatre Company. But now it turns out I haven’t missed it at all, as a Broadway run has just been announced for the show, beginning performances on December 17. It’s rather easier for me to get to Broadway than it is to get to Sydney, so I’m glad I waited.

While it’s always nice to be in at the start of something, not catching up after all the hype has swept in, some shows are worth the wait. For example, I missed the much-acclaimed original run of Iphigenia in Splott at its Cardiff premiere, and then also (more unaccountably) also missed its London transfer to the National’s Temporary Theatre. But when it toured the UK afterwards, I vowed to make amends – and instead of travelling five minutes from my home up the road to the National, took a train up to Birmingham to see it at Birmingham Rep instead.

 But last week I was indeed in at the beginning, visiting Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre for the first time to see National Theatre Wales’s new show, Before I Leave, an affecting but messily constructed piece about Alzheimer’s. And the next night I was back in London to catch up on the phenomenon that is Taylor Mac, opening this year’s LIFT at Hackney Empire. Taylor Mac was last in London five years ago at Soho Theatre, but passed me by; I’m glad to have made caught up now and really want to see the 24-hour durational performance being promised/threatened later in the year, when Taylor Mac will perform an entire 240 song cycle with a song for each year of America’s modern-day history from 1776 to the current day. I’m already wondering how I can be there.

But you can’t be everywhere. This week the Adelaide Cabaret Festival kicks off in the South Australian city (running from June 10-25), now in its 16th year and newly led by joint artistic directors Ali McGregor and Eddie Perfect. I was a regular visitor to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, going for four years between 2004 and 2007. I’d been invited to go by then artistic director Julia Holt, and it was at the first one in 2004 that I saw Eddie Perfect for the first time and was blown away by this subversive singer-songwriter. The year after, I saw Tim Minchin for the first time, a drama school contemporary of Perfect for whom Minchin had once worked as his accompanist.

To declare an interest, Perfect became a friend – I even went to his wedding in Central Park when, by sheer chance, I happened to be in New York when the small gathering was happening. Minchin was there, too. I subsequently ‘stole’ the wedding – including the location and even the same officiant – for my own New York wedding a year later.

I also suggested Barb Jungr for Holt to programme, and she has become a fixture at the festival (and is returning again this year). I’ll never forget going to see her cabaret festival debut back in 2006, and walking along the coast with her as we saw dolphins swimming out at sea. But Barb’s impact was even deeper on audience members: as one of them, Libby King, wrote on her blog:

The set up was simple – a woman sitting on a stool speaking and singing, and beside her a man playing piano. But, she did amazing things. She was like a medium without the clairvoyance. She turned time from hours and minutes into spirit, magic, tears and ecstasy. She made herself into a clearer incarnation of Dylan – a Dylan with the cloak lifted, the glass cleaned, the mirror undisturbed. It made me want to stand up, sit down, sing out, weep, embrace and be embraced. When she bowed to our applause and left the stage we looked at each other in awe. Audience members saw the person next to them – the one whose hand they clutched during Sarah – and realised they’d never met before. Haunted, we rose from our seats in silence and then huddled in groups outside, standing close to each other so the electric sparks could keep flashing between us – we who were there, we who knew. We stood for a long time while the sparks stilled and we remembered how to breathe steadily again. After seeing Barb if I met someone and they loved cabaret, I loved them. Simple.

So I’d absolutely love to be in Adelaide again to see Perfect’s first festival and Jungr back in it. Among other attractions I’d be keen to see: Helen Dallimore, London’s first Glinda in Wicked, in the world premiere of a new cabaret tribute to Marilyn Monroe, Mae West, Dolly Parton and Madonna (June 10-12); the great Robyn Archer, who provided one of the best cabaret events of my life at Adelaide when she did a one-on-one performance of a song you choose to you and you only (June 11-12); Britain’s Joe Stilgoe (who featured in last year’s Old Vic High Society, appearing June 17-19); and Broadway belter (and Smash star) Megan Hilty (appearing June 11). I can’t, as I say, be everywhere; but I’m happy to note that I will be catching up with Hilty when she appears in cabaret in Provincetown from July 17-19, when I’ll be there for my annual summer visit.

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