When Barry Humphries came across an old suitcase of sheet music in a second-hand Melbourne bookshop in the 1940s, he could hardly have imagined that its contents—a treasure trove of very nearly lost music from the Weimar Republic—would continue to be source of fascination and delight for him over six decades later. Weimar Cabaret, which sees Humphries team up with fellow Aussie performer Meow Meow and the Australian Chamber Orchestra (directed by fiddle player Richard Tognetti), is his opportunity to share his passion for this era and tell some of the stories associated with it.
He’s as genial a host as you’d expect: introducing the programme, sharing anecdotes from a life rubbing shoulders with the likes of Billy Wilder and David Hockney, and occasionally having a little sing and dance too. Humphries has this rather, ahem, mature International Festival audience in the palm of his hand as he natters away about how the world has changed since he was a lad growing up in suburban Melbourne – he’s clearly enjoying every minute.
But the stars of the show performance-wise are the ACO, who work their way through a surprisingly varied programme that includes favourites like Kurt Weill and lesser known names (at least for a Weimar novice like me) such as Erwin Schulhoff and Ernest Krenek. Their playing—whether bringing to life ballads, tangos or jazz-influenced experimental tunes—is flawless throughout.
Meow Meow, meanwhile, brings a smokiness and fun to proceedings, in particular on numbers like Schulfhoff’s ‘Sonata erotica’, a Dadaist work "for gentlemen only" that simulates the female orgasm.