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Cabaret review: Dickie Beau – Unplugged

Cabaret Festival

Unplugged is a tiny miracle at the heart of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Dickie Beau opens up cabaret’s box of tricks and places the contents inside a beautifully constructed, thought-provoking piece of theatre.

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Beau’s considerable talents have been accrued through years of working in London’s alternative drag scene, in Milan with physical theatre company Teatro Della Contraddizione, and in British film and TV drama development. He is best known for reinventing the drag art of lip-syncing, using elements of physical theatre, classical acting and clowning to turn it into a new genre that he describes as “playback performance”.

Through his extraordinary reanimations of speeches by film and stage icons, Beau has become revered as a kind of living ghost, a fleshy vessel for the voices of the dead and distant. And what a joy he is to watch. Not only does he memorise the intricate, nuanced patterns of some pretty lengthy speeches, but every intake of breath, every stutter and tick is exquisitely manifested in his physical expression.

This is never more evident than in the show’s opening number, a hilarious enactment of the voice of British actor Kenneth Williams, deliciously vaudevillian in its delivery.

But in the hands of Beau and director Jan van den Bosch, the show’s cabaret roots grow into something much bigger.

As a conduit for the voices of others, Beau is interested in the origins of language. Using video imagery and archive recordings of philosopher and mystic Terence McKenna, he takes us back to a time when sounds were first given meaning. It wasn’t long, he points out, before people were using language to build fences, to lay claim to what was theirs. But they also built bridges between individuals and communities who shared their knowledge and experiences.

Beau uses the voice of Peter Sellers to describe Greek amphitheatres, constructed for the amplification of sound. He reminds us that Greek masks were known as personae and their main purpose was not to create or disguise identity but to conduct sound (per meaning through, sona meaning sound).

Beau is, of course, a human persona, using his body to conduct other people’s voices. And Unplugged is ultimately a celebration of sound and the ever-more-sophisticated ways the voice can be used to bully and cajole, to entertain, to communicate love, to promote understanding.

Beau ends with a fabulous “found” recording, the sex tape of a middle-aged woman, communicating with her distant lover. With Beau as persona the rather graphic description of what she’d like to be doing with him is both funny and strangely touching, a reminder of our animal roots as well as the fragility of our hearts.

It’s cabaret, darlings, but not as we know it. Full of big ideas and on a mission to get you thinking, this could be the dawn of a new era for the genre.

The final performance of Dickie Beau: Unplugged is tonight (June 20), in the Dunstan Playhouse. See all InDaily’s Cabaret Festival stories and reviews here.

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