When you think of Melbourne and Cabaret, there is one venue that springs to mind… now it’s in 16th year, The Butterfly Club is a venue that holds a special place in the hearts of many. This year, they are presenting Melbourne Cabaret Festival Fringe, focussed on bringing together 7 exceptional productions that have garnered awards, critical, and popular acclaim, it’s a delectable season of work and one which promises to please even the most discerning audiences.
One of the works presented as part of this season, is Mother’s Ruin created by Sydney’s Black Cat Productions, described simply as a cabaret about Gin, writer Jessi Lewis met with the creators, and discovered that there is much more to it, then meets the eye…
How did the idea come into play, to create a work about Gin?
We were drinking gin, of course! Elly runs a website about gin (The Ginstress) and was sharing her stories over a few gins. Suddenly it seemed so obvious that we should combine our skills in cabaret and gin research. Gin has been linked to cabaret for years – most cabaret singers will have gin or red wine as their on-stage drink of choice. Maeve & Libby have been performing feminist cabaret for years with Lady Sings it Better and gin has a strong historical link to women. It all linked up so well it seemed strange we hadn’t thought of it earlier! Then, the more we researched the history and started to play with musical ideas and stories, the more excited we got about the concept.
What can we expect musically from the show?
A blistering soundtrack of drinking songs. We’ve reworked Amy Winehouse, Peggy Lee, Merle Haggard and The Pretenders as well as unearthing a couple of obscure old hits. We’ve interwoven the songs through a story that traverses hundreds of years of history, so the construction of the show has an amazing variety to it: from ragtime to blues, country to gospel, sacred hymn to sinful comedy.
Why do you think we associate Gin with women?
Gin as we know it today emerged in London in the 18 century. This coincided with the industrial revolution, working class people left subsistence farming and moved to the city to work in new factories. This completely transformed the lives of women, they had some means on independence and some access to this new drink gin, which the King was encouraging everyone to drink. People went a bit overboard with gin consumption, and as it often the case, the negative consequences were unduly blamed on women. Hence the term mother’s ruin.
How did the idea come into play, to create a work about Gin? While you have been looking at the history of gin, what are some interesting, surprising or obscure things you have learnt about the spirit?
There are so many stories! One of our favourites it the story of Kitty and Coley. Ada Coleman is widely known as the first female head bartender at the famous American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London. But she wasn’t, Ruth ‘Kitty’ Burgess was appointed to the role two years before her, but Coley was more talented. Kitty and Coley had a rivalry so intense that they worked together in the American Bar for 25 years without speaking to each other. The disappointing end to the story is that they were ‘retired’ when wealthy Americans started coming over to drink during prohibition and didn’t approve of female bartenders.
What is about cabaret that you love so much, what inspires you most about the form?
“Music, truth and prophecy – I think those three words sum up everything necessary to make great cabaret.” – Jeremy
“I love how broad it is, as a genre, and its focus on storytelling through music. There aren’t really rules so you can play with form and ideas really freely. I also love its political history and the way cabaret can mess with pop culture and expectation.” – Maeve
How do you like to drink you gin? On the rocks? Lemon or lime? Shaken…. or stirred?
“A perfect martini is the perfect start of any evening, and a G&T hits the spot on lazy afternoons.” – Jeremy
“I love a citrusy gin cocktail, a creative modern one that enhances an individual gin’s botanicals. I always head straight to the gin on a cocktail menu. And I love a good G&T with high quality tonic; I have a cupboard full of different gins for different moods.” – Maeve
Any difference between the cabaret scene in Sydney and Melbourne, which is better?
“Hmmmmm this could get me in trouble… I love coming to Melbourne because there are some wonderful venues and so many new acts to see. But Sydney, for me, is where it’s at, partly because it’s my home, and also because the cabaret scene has a vibrant cross pollination of forms right now – the evolution is exciting to watch.” – Jeremy