It’s a bit unfair to review a show with multiple performances, as the quality of each will inevitably vary. This was the case with the seven acts in the Adelaide Cabaret Fringe Gala, tasters for the coming festival from June 3 to 13. And not all of the acts seemed to convey cabaret — even with some Cabernet.

Cabaret, although its definition is fairly broad, is recognisable when you see it, hear it and sometimes feel it in the grime on the walls. An intimate and often seedy venue is part of the formula.

Currie Street’s Arthur Art Bar housed the gala and is one of the main venues for the festival. Decked out with lush, vintage blue and red curtains, while retaining broken ceiling tiles and missing parquetry, Arthur Art Bar captures well the cabaret ambience.

Another common feature of cabaret is a raunchy and cheeky MC. The gala also had this in Boo Dwyer, one half of comedy duo Petty Bitches. Boo, dressed in leopard print, sassed and sashayed amongst the audience and, amusingly, even offered instructions on writing style for critics.

Several of the acts were burlesque, a popular form of cabaret. The highlight of the entire show — aptly for the first day of Reconciliation Week — was Astro, a dynamic Indigenous dancer and burlesque performer. Astro lit up the stage, initially with a powerful stage presence and creative dancing and then literally with an illuminated fantail-shaped board on his back.

Another stand-out performance was from Megan Doherty, who did a spirited version of Kate Miller-Heidke’s poperatic Eurovision song, ‘Zero Gravity’. Doherty’s festival show is a celebration of Miller-Heidke’s music, ‘Life According to Kate’.

The other artists included Liz Baker (burlesque); the Borderers doing a tribute to the Eurythmics; a risqué bubble show; Dirk Darrow (a detective–magician with a clever card trick); and the Rad Pack. The last act mentioned was a tribute to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Although their references to Adelaide were entertaining, unfortunately, neither singer sounded like the originals.

It felt like some of the acts were lifted straight from the Fringe. In fact, I’d seen Dirk Darrow’s dick shtick at a previous Fringe. The idea of a fringe cabaret festival is great, and this year’s program contains some interesting shows to check out.

One of the very few benefits of Covid times is that South Australians can see and support more local artists in such festivals. But there should be a marked difference between Cabaret Fringe shows and standard Fringe shows, or why not just call the former Christmas in July or Fringe in June?

The 2021 Cabaret Fringe Festival Gala was for one night only at Arthur Art Bar on Currie Street.

The Cabaret Fringe Festival begins on June 3. Find the full program here.

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