The first time Alan Cumming set foot in Adelaide it was 1989, he was 24, and he was performing outside of Britain for the first time ever.

Since then, he says plenty has changed, including the trams he used to ride into the city from his Glenelg accommodation each day. “They’re a little less rickety now,” Cumming laughs.

This year, as Adelaide Cabaret Festival artistic director, he not only brings a bunch of his friends and other outstanding performers along with him, he’s also got his own show, Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age.

“I have a band, sing songs and tell stories. I’m really enjoying getting older and I find it interesting that it’s portrayed as the worst thing that could possibly happen to us.

“It’s going to happen to everyone; why don’t we embrace it and make it a positive thing?”

As part of his program of 150 performances over 12 days and nights from this Friday, Cumming is also presenting Club Cumming – an event that emulates his New York nightclub and is on every night of the festival, with all the raucousness you can cram into The Famous Spiegeltent.

“It’s a late-night dance party,” he says. “There’s a band, I’ll sing, invite some guests along. It’s a great place to have a drink at the end of the night.”

When an artistic director comes on board, they usually visit other festivals around the world to handpick the talent. With the pandemic halting most live performance in the lead-up to this year’s festival, Cumming’s job was made a little harder, but he’s managed to pull together a line-up of funny, thoughtful and downright naughty acts. Here are just a few of his recommendations.

Adelaide Tonight

Cross the threshold of The Famous Spiegeltent into the golden age of variety television with Bob Downe and Adelaide’s Anne “Willsy” Wills. The duo re-create Channel Nine’s Adelaide Tonight! with a line-up of artists, laughs and cheeky cabaret. Cumming has known Bob Downe’s creator, Mark Trevorrow, for 33 years and says he is a prime example of the local talent he wanted to include on the bill. “I wanted to highlight Australian talent because so many of my experiences of doing cabaret have been in Australia or with Australian people.” – June 11-26

Young Talent Time

Coming to Australia over the years, it didn’t take Alan Cumming long to realise what a legend Johnny Young was in the country’s entertainment industry. So, he’s excited to bring the star to Adelaide for Young Talent Time – 50th Anniversary Reunion Special. It’s a case of “where are they now?”, with the show  bringing back some of the Young Talent Time alumni for the first time in more than three decades. – June 19

Mental as Everything

Singer-songwriter Damon Smith’s show about mental health will see him share his personal experience of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder. “I’m excited about using the form of cabaret to start talking about different topics,” Cumming says. Mental as Everything lays bare the highs and lows of living with a mental illness, with Smith accompanied by Adam Coad, who explores his anxiety in the show. – June 24-26

Songs of Don

Katie Noonan, Clare Bowditch and Sarah McLeod join forces to perform some of the most iconic songs written by Don Walker, Cold Chisel’s main songwriter. Songs of Don includes classics such as “Khe Sanh”, “Saturday Night”, “Cheap Wine” and “Standing on the Outside”. – June 18

The Blind Date Project

Anna (Bojana Novakovic) waits in a karaoke bar for a date she matched with online. Each night, she has a different date in the form of a guest performer. The real fun of the show is that it’s a surprise to her until they step out on stage and begin an entirely unscripted performance. In the past, The Blind Date Project guests have included Margot Robbie, Joel Edgerton and Laverne Cox. – June 11-25

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs from June 11 to 26.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.