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Mother’s Ruin – A Cabaret About Gin review at the Other Palace, London – ‘thoughtfully constructed’

Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood in Mother's Ruin – A Cabaret About Gin. Photo: Patrick Boland Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood in Mother's Ruin – A Cabaret About Gin. Photo: Patrick Boland
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If you are going to create a cabaret show to tour cocktail bars around the world, the history of gin is probably a smart choice. Mother’s Ruin is a musical history lesson about the manufacture, sale and sexual politics behind the alcoholic beverage.

The show was originally created for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2016 by native cabaret team Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood. It has since toured the world, drawing its parallel between historic misogyny and rabid colonialism, and the production of gin from herbal cure to its recent renaissance.

In the 18th century, gin was one of two ways a poor woman could make money and, despite Hogarth’s memorable anti-gin etching Gin Lane, by the 1800s gin was being consumed by men, women and – sadly – children alike.

Yet despite these sobering statistics, Marsden and Wood’s cabaret has an almost gospel tone, reminding us that only 50 years ago, women were not allowed to drink unaccompanied by a man in some parts of Australia.

The music choices capture both the melancholy and celebratory side of their story, covering Winehouse, Simone and Sia while muddling in arrangements of Two Ladies and, perhaps inevitably, Oom Pah Pah. For vocals, Marsden and Wood blend together beautifully, each possessing soft modulated mezzos with a voluble belt and emotional sensitivity highlighted by several close, a capella harmonies.

Occasionally the pair are joined by pianist Andrew Warboys, who provides a sensitive accompaniment on the piano and occasional vocals, but this gig belongs to Marsden and Wood.

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Fun, thoughtfully constructed cabaret with flashes of melancholy amid the celebratory tone