By Peter May
He may have sadly retired his beloved Dame Edna Everage character but the Moony Ponds creation still got a mention in this entertaining cabaret. Barry Humphries returns two years on from its debut at the Cadogan Hall but this time in the vast spaces of the Barbican Theatre.
Dressed in a burgundy smoking jacket while sitting in an armchair on the side of the stage, Barry sets the scene telling the audience about his time as a teenager in 1940’s Melbourne. He was always interested in music and second hand books, much to the dismay of his mother. One day he stumbled upon a collection of sheet music, once owned by a refugee from Nazi Germany, from a second hand bookshop.
It consisted of works by composers banned in the Third Reich as “degenerate”, among them Korngold, Ernst Krenek and Kurt Weill, and though Humphries couldn’t read a score, his desire to unlock the secrets of the printed page resulted in a lifelong fascination with music of the Weimar Republic, with its experimentalism, defiance and unique mix of classical and jazz.
It was all very personal, too – amid some shameless name-dropping, he took us through his fascination with this remarkable music. Barry pairs himself up with big haired Aussie cabaret diva Meow Meow. They both have a ball and in a performance of brilliant conviction she snarls her way through what became a terrifyingly brutal account of Weill’s Pirate Jenny, and was joined by a superb violinist to purr through the sapphic Wenn Die Beste Freundin.
The Aurora Orchestra are outstanding and power through the jazz inflected music with hard-edged precision and magnificently gritty spirit. It’s a mesmerising, touching, deeply humane evening. Try not to miss it.
Until July 29, Barbican Theatre