CABARET FESTIVAL – Paul McDermott – The Dark Garden – Festival Theatre Stage – 3.5K

SMA Kryztoff banner May 13 100dpi2013 Cab LogoDuring this year’s Adelaide Fringe, the staircase to the basement of the Tuxedo Cat was actually a porthole into the mind of Paul McDermott. In the bowels of what was once the David Jones building, you found yourself surrounded by pictures of traditionally cute animals (bunnies, deer, etc.), unsettlingly evolved into rather darker versions. The world they inhabited was a corrupted and dangerous yet beautiful environment, The Dark Garden. The Cabaret Festival now offers a sister piece to this exhibition, as McDermott presents a collection of songs, written during the same period as the creation of this visual art, which explore some similar themes.

This is a show quite directly focussed on loss and the feelings that accompany it. McDermott references the Kübler-Ross model of five stages of grief throughout, and uses this – though with a substitution of one stage for cross-dressing – as the structure for the journey through his songs, with varying success. It is interesting that the stage he chose to substitute was depression and thus, this state of mind is never directly mentioned in the show despite clearly being a heavily underlying sensation throughout. The songs are pleasing, in a beautiful, sorrowful, cathartic way. Musically, the four piece band (lead by Stu Hunter) and string quartet compliment McDermott’s voice and the arrangements are satisfying.

Within the show as a whole, there is an interesting juxtaposition. In between songs, McDermott is the character we know from TV and the Doug Anthony All Stars; a self-confident comedian, full of irreverence, quick with the one-liners, letting rip with a few profanities and telling ridiculous stories featuring characters such as ex porn stars. On the one level this prevents the performance from becoming too overly gloomy, but on the other it jars with the intensity of the songs so that it ends up feeling a little disjointed. Having said this, the presentation of these two very different sides also serves to exhibit the differences between the person that gets presented to the world and the internal feelings not so readily shared; not just in terms of McDermott but for people, particularly men, as a whole.

The lyrics of the songs clearly come from a very personal place for McDermott and this no doubt makes it hard for him to sing them. His performance often felt distant, like he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, allow the emotions in the songs to affect him – or, if he did feel them, allow this sensitivity to be reflected for others to see. While it’s a natural instinct to avoid being overly emotional in front of others, part of a performer’s job is to be the conduit between the passion of the piece and the audience. When he did throw himself into it, and showed some of his vulnerability, it was highly affecting.

While not a wholly satisfying emotional journey, there were certainly some stimulating elements to this show and McDermott has a wonderfully creative mind and beautiful voice. It was interesting to see the ideas and images from the paintings reflected in a different art form and this show and the instillation make nice counterparts.

Kryztoff Rating: 3.5K

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