The Riddle of the Labyrinth (Margalit Fox)

“This is the true story of one of the most mesmerizing riddles in western history and, in particular, of the unsung woman who would very likely have solved it, had she only lived a little longer”, begins Fox’s telling of the decipherment of Linear B. As with so many of the early, imaginative theories of the meaning of the Linear B script, however, this is less accurate and more enticing than the truth. Alice Elizabeth Kober’s role in the solving of this mystery was overshadowed, but not ‘unsung’ as was Rosalind Franklin’s role in the decipherment of the structure of DNA, for so long. (Fox wisely never draws the comparison). As Fox herself says, “Kober was by the mid-twentieth century the world’s leading expert on Linear B.”

Kober (1906-1950), an overworked American academic (see below) whom Fox calls “The Detective,” is the central figure of three in this – yes – mesmerizing book. In 1900 Arthur Evans, “The Digger” (how he would loathe that title!), a famed British archaeologist, unearthed an immense Bronze Age building on the island of Crete.  He concluded that it was the palace of King Minos, home to the Minotaur. Most importantly, he found thousands of clay tablets inscribed with a hitherto unknown writing and preserved by fire. At that time they were Europe’s earliest written records. Evans and his successors sat on them, releasing only a few inscriptions to scholars desperate to attempt the decipherment.

Alice Kober - Wikipedia

Kober set to work on the copies of inscriptions which she did have, learning other languages first, to assist. The work involved is mind-boggling. Having determined that Linear B is a mainly syllabic language, “[s]he catalogued the frequency of each character, of course, but she catalogued a great deal more than that.  She noted the frequency of each character in any position in a word, (initial, second, middle, next-to-last, and final); the characters that appeared before and after every sign; the chances of a given character’s occurring in combination with any other character; repeated instances of two- and three-character clusters; and much else.”  By the time of her death in 1950 at the age of 43 she had filled 180,000 index cards hand-made due to wartime shortages). To those with some knowledge of an inflected language – such as Latin or Ancient Greek – the explanation of Kober’s method, determining “the complex interlacements between the Minoan language and the Minoan writing system” will be particularly fascinating, but it’s a must-read for anyone at all interested in puzzles, writing and language.

Then, as every schoolboy knows, in 1952 architect Michael Ventris (“The Architect”, son of architects who went to Carl Jung personally for child-rearing advice) published his findings – a decipherment of Linear B*.  He had had the benefit of the work of Kober and others but, curiously, at the eleventh hour, only made the breakthrough when he reluctantly abandoned his certainty that Linear B was not a form of Greek.  Ventris has of course been lauded for this final push, at the expense of Kober (and others who worked on the script).

La traduzione del lineare B

Kober dies aged 43; Ventris dies aged 34. Perpetually hunching over stone tablets makes one sick or dangerously tired, obviously.

After all that, what do the tablets tell us?  “There are no grand narratives lurking in Linear B – no epic poems, no romances, no tales of gods and their derring-do.”  They are the administrative and economic records of a Mycenean state, some 3,000 years ago. “Their account books, set in clay and baked in unintended fire, tell us what they sowed and reaped, what they ate and drank, the names of the gods they worshipped…how they earned their keep, how they passed their time, how they defended themselves and made war”.  And that’s a great deal. Fox quotes the American newspaperman Murray Kempton on the difference between criminal and civil proceedings – “The Criminal Courts can only tell us the way some of our sisters and brothers steal or kill or die.  But the Civil Courts tell us the way all of us live”.

  • See “The Decipherment of Linear B” by John Chadwick.

Linear B Tablets from Pylos - Trojan war

[Editor’s note and free translation: “Hi Minos! How are you? Weather here is fine. We had lunch in the olive grove, near an enormous maze. Heard some growling coming from within, so we headed for the shore. Regards, Theseus.”] Continue Reading →


(Director Joseph Kosinski) (Netflix, 2022)

Spiderhead, a 107 minute TV movie from a short story by George Saunders (see our review of Lincoln in the Bardo here) is a bit too long. About 100 minutes too long. Saunders kept the story short for a reason.

It starts interestingly enough and maintains the tone of a Black Mirror episode throughout, (not a good Black Mirror episode though. Not like San [sob] Junipero [sob]). Steve Abnesti (A Hemsworth) is the governor (sort-of) of an island prison facility called “Spiderhead” (the name is not explained in the film and don’t bother Googling it, it doesn’t really matter). Prisoners who agree to take part in experimental drug trials can be transferred to Spiderhead where, in exchange for guinea pig status, they live in comfortable surroundings. Jeff (Miles Teller) who accidentally killed a mate when he drove drunk (so that he’s relatable) is in a relationship with Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett, sister of Jussie!). Lizzy’s crime has to be a doozy for the plot to work, but it isn’t and it doesn’t. The story suffers from the writers’ constant attempts to make the audience like Jeff and Lizzy. Furthermore, Jeff seems to have free run of Abnesti’s quarters and the experiment station itself.

Whichever of the many identical Hemsworths this is, he gives the spider who administers the drugs and plays with peoples’ lives the usual smug Hemsworth treatment. He even refers to himself as one of the ‘beautiful people’. His only interesting moment is when he dances to Roxy Music’s More Than This. It does add depth to the character and, if you like Hemsworths, you’ll love it, (whichever Hemsworth it is). Indeed, the soundtrack is  pleasing, and fitting.

Abnesti’s small and earnest assistant Verlaine (Mark Paguio) gives us enough concerned looks to ensure that we know that something’s wrong. The big reveal is no surprise, and doesn’t even make sense. The action scenes are silly. The  sex scenes are gratuitous and cringeworthy. It is reported that the Hemsworth who played Abnesti said that there was a “complexity to the character unlike anything I’d done before“.  This is frightening. As is the amount of mascara he allows to be ladled onto the eyelashes of his blue, blue eyes.  We recommend that this Hemsworth immediately watch Paul Newman in The Hustler and in Hud. Watch and learn.

Spiderhead' Twitter Review: Fans Call Chris Hemsworth Starrer 'boring' And 'slow'

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Behind Her Eyes

June 27, 2022 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | Drama, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, TV SERIES |

(Directed by Erik Richter Strand, Netflix, UK, 6-part series)

The only thing behind the eyes of any of the actors in Behind Her Eyes is the sad realisation that life has come to this.

Adam (Tyler Howitt, below) is a sassy-but-melancholy, innocent-but-knowing, big-framed-glasses-wearing dumpling of a kid.  The kind of kid that the writers of chick-flicks give a single mother when they want the audience to like her.

The single mother in this chick-flick is Louise Barnsely (Simona Brown) who has the type of job that only those same kind of writers could think we’ll believe. Louise is a part-time receptionist in a private psychiatric clinic (Oh! A psychiatric clinic. That’ll be a plot point). There Louise does nothing all day but eat and listen to private phone conversations.  Just so that we know that Louise, although appropriately poor, is funky too, she dresses like a colour-blind gypsy from the 1950s (which will in fact be appropriate later, as will her frequent and risible wide-eyed looks of amazement and horror).

Louise has a really bad and embarrassing day in her spiffy office when the new psychiatrist, Dr. David Ferguson (Tom Bateman) starts work.  O no!  she and he shared a kiss the night before, not knowing that they would be working together!  But he’s married! And he’s irresistible. (Apparently. Miscast, if you ask us). What a unique situation. Never before heard of in the annals of bad TV.  Naturally Dr. F and Louise hurl themselves at each other. Louise “knows it’s wrong”, but by then she’s seen his massive house.

Meanwhile, we know that there is something wrong with Dr. F’s wife Adele (Eve Hewson, below) who wears silky pyjamas day and night.  She befriends Louise, but neither of them tell Dr. F. Louise seems to think that this is a fun secret. During the flashbacks to her troubled youth (in a castle, in the woods), Adele stumps about in stumpy floral playsuits, although it’s freezing in the castle in the woods. Eve Hewson does what little she is given to do well. But then, her hair does most of it. Long and down indicates wild loony young Adele. Psychotically neat bob equals modern-day Stepford wife.

To emphasise the gap between the Haves and the Have Nots, those ingenious writers introduce Adele’s unlikely friend Robert Hoyle (an excellent performance by Robert Aromayo), a Glaswegian loser.

The whole silly chick-flick triangle thing then degenerates into supernatural mumbo-jumbo worthy of a C-grade 1950s or 60’s schlock movie. Those dated clothes and eye-rolling come in useful now.

No, we didn’t see the twist coming because even Ed Wood wouldn’t buy it.  But it made the double-twist inevitable, if idiotic.

[Editor’s note: C’mon Netflix! Your stock and ratings are tanking; how about screening some old movies or making some sensible drama? You could plunder a thousand decent out-of-copyright novels, for starters.] Continue Reading →

Sam Cooke – The Music

June 25, 2022 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Modern Music, MUSIC, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Adelaide Cabaret Festival,  24 June 2022)

Before his bizarre death on 11 December 1964, at the somehow apposite age of 33, and his subsequent apotheosis, Sam Cooke was already a key figure in modern music. He took elements of R & B, Gospel and Pop, and created Soul, which emphasizes vocals and venerates both God and the Ladies. In his short life, he made 29 singles that made the top 40.

Gary Pinto (pictured, photo by Simon Upton) is a leading performer of R & B and Soul music. The Sam Cooke Tribute he has developed in recent years comes at a fortunate time for Adelaide, and on Friday night he and his terrific band lit up the Dunstan Playhouse. Pinto’s snippets of back story concerning Cooke, his mastery of stage and crowd, and his vocal range and control, were impressive, even if he was a little strained in a couple of moments (on “Cupid”, and “Unchained Melody,” although in the case of the latter song, who wouldn’t be?).

Before the Show

We respectfully disagree with Pinto’s opinion that Cooke’s music has not dated – what good and great art does not date? But Cooke’s oeuvre, locked in the 1950s and 1960s, with all the constrictions of pop song structure of the time, is still a mighty thing, and this show made for a mighty evening. Equally as good as the Cooke covers (see below) was a ripping version of a song Otis Redding made his own, “Try a Little Tenderness,” Pinto and his cohort moving from soft and slow to the speed and strength of a freight train.

From gospel pieces such as “Jesus Gave Me Water,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Touch the Hem of His Garment”; to fun songs like “Having a Party,” “Shake,” “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha” and “Twistin’ the Night Away”; pop classics “Wonderful World,” “You Send Me,” “Sad Mood,” “Somebody Have Mercy,” “For Sentimental Reasons,” “Bring It On Home to Me,” “Another Saturday Night,” “It’s Alright,” and “Stand By Me,” dreamy ballads “All of My Life” (and the particularly strong “Summertime,”); and the social takes

“Chain Gang,” and “A Change is Gonna Come” (which Cooke only got to perform 5 times), Gary Pinto and his crew were On-Song. Sam would have been pleased.

File:Sam Cooke in the recording studio 1961.jpg

Sam would have been pleased

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Otto & Astrid

June 24, 2022 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Modern Music, MUSIC, THEATRE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 23 June 2022)

Come out, come out! In Adelaide’s cold, clear, calm, beautiful winter! And see this Festival before the tents are pitched.

At the fabulous Spiegeltent on Festival Plaza (below), a large and appreciative crowd gathered to see and hear Otto & Astrid, the famous ‘dysfunctional, squabbling, co-dependent pair who are Berlin’s prince and princess of art rock and Europop, a lipstick-smeared, tantrum-loving, sonic collision between B-52s, The Pixies, Kraftwerk and early Ramones.’


What’s good or easy
In your freezing sit?
Come hear the music play,
Life is a cabaret, you folks,
Come to the cabaret;
Turn off the TV
And reveal some grit,
Evening or matinée,
Life’s full of laughs, of fun, of jokes
Come to the cabaret

Come taste the wine,
Come hear the band,
Come warm your hands by the brazier
Then come through this bright embrasure –
What good’s permitting
Some government hack?
To wipe every smile away,
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret…

I went to see Frau Astrid and Herr Otto,
And soon picked up their zeitgeist and their motto,
They weren’t like German bands of recent rumour,
As a matter of fact they showed much Deutsche humour.
When they dance and squabble people sit and snicker,
It must be fun to so pretend to bicker;
But when we heard them drum and strum, sublime
It was the happiest night we had in recent time.*

Before the Show

Astrid and Otto don’t so much take the stage and perform; rather, they storm the stage and emote. She’s a great, vertically challenged drummer in the style of Mo Tucker (although a drum machine takes over at times), he’s a gifted guitarist with emotional issues.

They performed:

  1. A weird, rocking, love song, “Dinosaur”; 
  2. “Bananana,” a Pixies-inspired ditty replete with double-entendres;
  3. “The Situation,” a (very) short song written by Astrid in a shock of inspiration;
  4. A smutty rocker called “Second Best Friend”;
  5. Some unauthorised songs by Otto while Astrid was having a costume change, “Trying Not to Die,” and “Automatic Door,” bastard melds of Morrissey, Joy Division and Kraftwerk;
  6. Astrid’s “Drinking Song” (which part-inspired my ditty above), complete with orders to the audience to rise and oom-pa pah along in the chorus; and
  7. “I am not a Robot, I am a Lion!” with keytar and cowbell – Bruce Dickinson would be pleased!).

Otto und Astrid display the precise, pinpoint choreography that made the night

They finished with a great Euro-Trash rocker, “Rock Bang”, complete with hand signals. Cigarette lighters would have been waving, but might have been a fire risk. A good evening was had by all.

[* With apologies to John Kander and Fred Ebb.] [Photos of O & A by Claudio Raschella.] Continue Reading →

Every Musical Ever

June 19, 2022 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | MUSIC, THEATRE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 18 June 2022)

Two Disclaimers: (1) The Varnished Culture is not really that much into musicals (bad music, good acting), preferring opera (bad acting, good music). We couldn’t fit a musical in our list of the 20 finest films. However it is a great genre we suppose, and we have previously commented on some of the outstanding examples: Singin’ in the Rain, Cabaret, The Umbrellas of CherbourgWe have also expressed our disdain for the more toxic entries, such as Cats and The Sound of Music. (2) Musical theatre is exempt from consumer law, so no producer can be criticized for not sinking his own money in the show, or for staging “Springtime for Hitler,” or for claiming to cover ‘every musical ever’.

Which last claim forms the basis, the structure, and much of the hectic (sometimes arch) humour of this show, as 4 dreamers from off-Broadway give their all, over 80 minutes, in an ‘official’ attempt to break a Guinness record of presenting every musical ever. As it becomes clear to impresario Hayden Tee, as would be clear to anyone who Googled ‘List of Musicals’ (carried over two posts, A-L and M-Z), this is a daunting task, so devices are extemporized to bring concision to the mad venture, such as a frantic Andrew Lloyd Webber medley, a draw-from-the-hat staging of world musicals, and abandonment of all plot (except Cats, which has no plot) and all but the most minimal props. Props were simple, and inspirational: we particularly liked the broom, useful to sweep away a surfeit of glitter, wielded as an oar in the Phantom boat scene.

‘Props Ahoy!’

In the end, they get through 52 – no mean feat – and along the way, via a combination of impressive (miked) singing, frenzied costume changes, repartee and directorial invention, they slayed the packed crowd at the Dunstan Playhouse who were clapping, swaying, standing and waving glo-stix thoughtfully distributed by the players. This creation is by Richard Carroll, a director, writer and producer who has a podcast called ‘Every Musical Ever,’ who clearly doesn’t really go along with this show’s conceit that they’ve seen every musical so you don’t have to, and Gillian Cosgriff, a multi-faceted performer and writer.

We will attempt to outline below some of the fare presented – we couldn’t keep up with it all – but now for the participants. Hayden Tee, notionally in charge of the omni-shambles, is adept at farce with a strong voice and sense of timing. We particularly liked his frequent appearances to speed up proceedings, such as when Josie Lane ploughed ponderously through her solo song, “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” He also scrubs up well as Dorothy. Josie was also wonderful and distinctly startling as a guttersnipe Annie. Georgina Hopson made much of her Xanadu skate prop, and Dash Kruck evoked much pathos with his Oliver! begging bowl. The four were, pardon the phrase, “Fab” and made the evening great fun. They were ably wrangled by musical & creative director Zara Stanton, on piano.

No prizes for guessing this one…

[Now, for our hastily (and in the dark) assembled list (so I may have got one or two wrong):

Annie Get Your Gun (opening song, “There’s No Business Like Show Business”) / The Wizard of OzWicked / West Side Story / Chicago (“W[h]e Had it Coming”) / Les Misérables / The Sound of Music / Lion King / Fiddler on the Roof / Hairspray / Hamilton / Grease (see above) //The ‘Andrew Lloyd Wedley’ – CatsPhantom of the OperaJesus Christ SuperstarStarlight ExpressEvitaSunset BlvdJoseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat // Miss Saigon (using Dash Kruck’s toy helicopter) / Xanadu (using Georgina Hopson’s skate) / Singin’ in the Rain (Tee’s umbrella with rain sparkles), culminating in “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” from Gypsy / Oklahoma / A Little Night Music / Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street / The Boy From Oz (“I Go to Rio”) / South Pacific / Billy Elliot / Brigadoon / Cabaret / Company / My Fair Lady (“I Could Have Danced All Night”, a solo by Hopson, whose hand once touched that of Julie Andrews – respect!) / A Chorus Line / Hello, Dolly! / Annie / Oliver! / Mamma Mia! / Charlie and the Chocolate Factory / and the time-warp whirlwind wrapped up with The Rocky Horror Show.  That’s only 40. We missed 12 at least. Sorry] Continue Reading →

The Shanghai Mimi Band

June 18, 2022 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | HISTORY, MUSIC, THEATRE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 17 June, 2022)

Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s was “The Paris of the East, the New York of the West,” at least in popular myth, and in old Hollywood films: where elegance rubbed shoulders with depravity but always in a well-dressed way: glittering gowns, elegant cheongsams, dinner suits and white mess jackets, accompanied by a range of recreational poisons. And the night clubs along the Bund (the Shanghai waterfront) provided the venue, salted with the haute and the louche, and sugared by the Chinese chanteuses and hot bands playing French torch songs and shidaiqu (時代曲), a mix of Chinese folk and American jazz.

Shanghai Mimi started artistic life as a full production of music, dancing and acrobatics but on this night we had a slimmed version, more apt for the night club that is the Spiegeltent on the Adelaide ‘bund’ – Sophie Koh and her band led us through an hour of old standards (not all from the 1920s or 1930s but who cares), with the odd new bauble (Sophie sang a moving song, “Olive Tree,” for her grandmother, and a 1970s Chinese pop song) thrown in.

Sophie first appeared in a shimmering gold gown and later had a costume change, appearing in an attractive cheongsam with a fur stole that any bien-pensants present doubtless hoped was artificial. Ms. Koh looked just right, and her walk-ons and walk-offs, including sashaying among the crowd, felt authentic. She handled songs in English, French and Mandarin impressively, and had many in the crowd swaying, even singing along, open-mike / karaoke style, to a number from the old country (those that knew it). The lighting was just right, and the only things needed to complete the atmosphere were a bowl of opium and Mr. Peter Lorre.  We were not familiar with some of the numbers, but they moved from French and Chinese torch songs to classics from the American songbook; fare including “Perhaps,” “Someone to Watch over Me,” “I Want Your Love” and “Miss Shanghai.”

We did fear for Sophie’s voice at times. There was the odd vocal strain/struggle (perhaps the cold weather hadn’t helped?), and the band’s volume mix and enthusiasm swamped the singing a bit too often. But overall, the warmth, feeling and effect of the show were not dimmed.

The Shanghai Mimi Band was excellent. John McAll, the musical director, was consummate on piano. And in the highlight for this reviewer, in a stomping rendition of the Benny Goodman classic “Sing Sing Sing,” Aaron McCoullough on drums (worthy of Gene Krupa, albeit looking too respectable) and Brennan Hamilton Smith on clarinet, were on fire. The whole band was impeccable.

As Sophie stated at the conclusion, all good things must come to an end. While Shanghai style even survived the tender mercies of Japanese occupation during WWII, it couldn’t breathe once Chairman Mao banned fun. However, Music and Theatre serve to remind us of the good things that pass. Sophie Koh and the Shanghai Mimi Band delivered on that.


Even golf was stylish in Old Shanghai

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Il Bacaro

June 13, 2022 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | FOOD, Restaurants, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, TRAVEL |

(168-170 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 20 May 2022)

A Homage to Bacchus

This lively, lovely little joint

Has been going strong since ’95,

It’s tiny, dark and crowded space

Is always filled, and comes alive.

So you should always be prepared

To book, and get there right on time;

You may cool heels at the well-stocked bar,

But the drinks there are sublime.

And after a grand snort or two,

You’re deftly guided to your seat:

An expert waiter, with no airs,

Will help you work out what to eat.



Ostriche al naturale (6 oysters, with white wine vinegar, shallots);

Quail, gorgonzola semifreddo, figs, fig leaf snow;

Spaghettini, Moreton Bay bug, “olio visadi”, garlic, chilli, rocket;

Cocoa Pappardelle, venison ragu, fermented rapini, pecorino,

With a dry Lombardy white wine.


Il Bacaro , Victoria , Australia

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Davina and the Vagabonds

June 12, 2022 | Posted by Guest Reviewer | Modern Music, MUSIC, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 11 June, 2022)

[Davina and the Vagabonds, late to town thanks to post-Covid chaos in international flights, appeared at the Cabaret Festival on Saturday night, drawing from the past 100 years of American music, from Fats Domino and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Aretha Franklin and Tom Waits. Reportedly, Davina has been compared to Etta James, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday and Betty Boop, but in order to verify, The Varnished Culture had 2 guest reviewers in attendance who know a thing or three about past and contemporary music in this Dawning Age of Aquarius. Their keen impressions, in two separate pieces, appear below.]

Raymond G, the Accidental Reviewer

It’s mid-June; 12 degrees C, it’s dark; it’s drizzling; and so it is that we escape from over two years of COVID captivity and venture forth into the night to catch the free bus to culture (Seniors’ Card; didn’t have one of them pre-COVID!).  Upon arrival at the Speigeltent Plaza, it became clear that pandemic paranoia had indeed changed the concert going world; $12 for a plastic thimble of seriously average wine; “open” fires enclosed by security fences; and two commando-like security guards to add the logs (we thought we were in the Ukraine; have another thimble!). But stay calm and think of Shanghai, we are here to see Davina and her Vagabonds.

Let us try and paint the musical picture; there is, of course, Davina, spangling from the piano; a skilled drummer who is on occasion permitted to sing (very well); a double bassist who is not permitted to sing! and two excellent brass players; trombone and trumpet. But be under no illusion, Davina is in control; don’t get it wrong!  And so it’s game on and they don’t. With an early and magnificent rendition of Commander Cody’s Four or Five Times, the crowd was electrified. The performance and production is joyous. And it doesn’t stop. Another highlight is the channelling by Davina of the late, great, Etta James which was inspired. The show was 75 minutes of musical happiness and joy. Not only for the audience but, we apprehend, also for the super slick band and Davina. So good, I couldn’t leave my seat to secure another thimble ($12 saved!)

Perhaps the best illustration of how good the performance was, is to reveal that, so overwhelmed were we by positivity oozing from the experience, that we lashed out and caught a taxi home (no Senior’s Card discount!).

The Critical Critic

Firstly, I must confess, I’ve lost some of my mojo when it comes to attending Adelaide’s many festivals. It just seems to me that over the years they have become more about the Artistic Directors, their egos and their PR machines, ticket sales and revenue (don’t get me started on the cost of tickets and booking fees), and the ‘big names’ rather than providing an opportunity for the average punter to take a risk and see an ‘unknown’ act and simply go along for the ride. Heavens, I remember when you could afford to see several such acts in one night and still have change for a late night snack at the pie cart.

Given all the above, I was somewhat reluctant to leave the warmth of home on a cold winters’ night but it wasn’t long before my somewhat cynical pre-judgement was called into question and my thoughts on the whole festival experience may have changed…

I know a review should be about the artistes involved, but I also believe the atmosphere plays a part in whether your experience is memorable or not. So here goes.
On arriving at the Festival Plaza (will the construction ever end), we were warmly welcomed, literally, by several fire pits well ablaze and smoking hot. We quickly found seats by the fire and enjoyed the cosy company of locals and interstate visitors who were not seeing a show but were there to soak up said atmosphere. And it set the scene perfectly. A few jokes concerning the ‘big brother’ drone overhead, the security guards turned stokers (we reckoned they must have done the fire-making course 101 at TAFE and were clearly enjoying their new authority), and it was time to enter the Speigeltent.

As usual, the audience was crammed in like sardines and there seemed to be an abundance of smoke/dry ice (clearly smoke is a theme at this year’s Cabaret Festival). We found two seats together, introduced ourselves to our ‘close’ neighbours, and prepared ourselves to be entertained.  And entertained we were. Davina and the Vagabonds were a sleek operation. The quintet of lead vocalist, (Davina Sowers), trumpet player and occasional vocalist Zack Lozier, trombonist Steve Rogers, double bassist Andrew Foreman and drummer Connor “Chops” McRae Hammerson) were definitely a winning combo. Their musicianship was faultless, the ‘adlibs’/’patter’ well-rehearsed and ‘looks to the audience’ carefully choreographed, resulting in an hour and a quarter of sheer pleasure.

Working their way through a repertoire of golden oldies including fabulous ditties from Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald intertwined with witty originals written by Davina herself, the time sped by far too quickly. A whirlwind journey through blues, jazz, and a whole lot more, and with Davina’s voice sounding like Ella meets Etta meets Amy meets Judy meets that wild girl who’s always the life and soul of every party, you couldn’t help but whoop it up whenever the opportunity arose.

Davina herself is pure sass, ably supported by the swagger of her vagabonds. She is Minnesota sunshine personified; She is a party girl, and her vibrant vagabonds were individually and collectively guests you’d insist come to the party too. I’d sure like to ‘partay’ with her. And I didn’t expect to be saying that as I opened my front door to head out.

[Editor’s note: Thanks RG and CC – looks like this show is a hit. My own impression is that the Festival security, whilst plentiful, was unobtrusive and respectful, and personally, I’d pay extra to a man serving drinks in the Festival Plaza Garden, out in the winter cold!!!] Continue Reading →

‘Nothing Better than the First Attempt’: Cabaret Life Drawing

June 11, 2022 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | ART, AUSTRALIANIA, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Cabaret Life Drawing, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 11 June 2022)

A very pleasant hour passed in the Cabaret Festival’s Spiegeltent on the Festival Centre Plaza. This was a life drawing session (not really a lesson, more like a brief taste with a light touch). The assembled throng, their creative impulses enlivened by a glass of wine and some piano and bass versions of songs such as Puttin’ on the Ritz, Tea for Two and All of Me, attempted to depict model Letitia, striking various classy poses in an elegant gown (see below).

It was conducted by Adelaide Central School of Art graduate Ruby Chew (below) [BA Visual Arts Hons. at Adelaide Central School of Art (2010), along with further study at Central Saint Martins, London and the Florence Academy of Art, Florence]. Ruby’s work has been accepted into the prestigious Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition, where she was awarded the SALA Prize, part funding her first solo exhibition, and the Hill Smith Gallery/Helpmann Academy Travel Prize, funding a 3-month artistic development trip around the UK and Europe.

Ruby Chew (photo by Claudio Raschella)

Ruby has exhibited, taught and held residency positions interstate and overseas. She has had numerous solo exhibitions, notably Portraits at Magazine Gallery (2011), Spitting Image at Hill Smith Gallery (2012) and The Difference Between Things at Floating Goose Studios (2021).  Her website is:

Ruby ran us through a number of exercises designed to afford amateurs an entrée into the creation of charcoal drawings of the model and her surrounding artefacts. It mattered not that the overall feel was more salon than cabaret club: using charcoal, tissue for shading and a portable board standing-in for an easel, we attempted continuous line drawing, drawing “blind” and using the non-dominant hand (we suppose a property lawyer would call it the ‘servient hand’) to draw, or try to draw, in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

Letitia models fans

Near the end of the session, Rosie Russell joined Letitia as an additional model, while she belted out an impressive version of “At Last” with the support of the two excellent musicians.

Rosie Russell

We can’t say our efforts will be hung in any gallery walls, but this no-pressure workshop was a playful gift and for us, a gentle opener to the Cabaret Festival.

Your reporter’s modest effort:
“Lady on chaise lounge with nearby cello”

As that talented rogue, Picasso, said, “In drawing, nothing is better than the first attempt.”

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