CABARET: Vandemonian Lags – Festival Theatre – 4.5K

An impressive group of Australian performers has been gathered by writer and songwriter, Mick Thomas, to tell the story of the Vandemonian Lags – the almost seventy thousand men and women transported to Tasmania to serve out sentences for convictions ranging from minor theft through to murder. In this incarnation of the show, we heard of the crimes, the hardships, the loves and the lives of seventeen of these original settlers.

While the songs were the major component of the performance, it was much more than just a concert. Narration was provided throughout by Brian Nankervis and Tim Rogers, setting the scenes of each story and keeping the pace up, as the other musicians came out from behind their instruments to portray the characters discussed. In many instances, the stories were also played out in animations or film clips, projected on a screen at the back of the stage. These were an interesting mix of concepts, most conforming to the “old world” aesthetic of the show, and provided an entertaining accompaniment to the songs.

The majority of songs were written by Thomas, who also performed as part of the ensemble, but the lead vocals were shared around the group, with many performers singing numbers written, and originally performed, by others also on stage. The music itself covered a wide definition of alternative/country/folk/rock, ranging from the simple guitar accompaniment of ‘The Book Thief’, which allowed the poetry of the lyrics (Darren Hanlon) to shine, through to full band numbers, such as ‘Sex Hospital’, which was written by Ben Salter but in this instance was performed by Rogers, who strutted across the stage as he savoured every deliciously bawdy verse.  

The major characteristic that made the show work so well was the energy, which never flagged; even the quieter songs were full of passion and heart. An interval didn’t slow the pace, with a spoof promotional song announcing the break in a fun manner and the gloriously consuming melody of ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ kicking off the second act with style. From the opening group rendition of the title song, through to the closing ‘Ikey Mo’, the performers showed why they are so well regarded in the industry. This was an evening of quality entertainment.

Kryztoff Rating: 4.5K

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