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May 15, 2008

Last Night's Cabaret

Living the student life (eating cockroaches out of a baked-bean tin, wearing a soiled singlet that I clawed from the bluing corpse of a mathematics student) I don't watch much TV. Sure there's BBC iPlayer, but I'm really lazy. It's just not happening. However, I do make a regular point of popping along to the Freshblood Cabaret, which is pretty much the most fun you can have with one hundred and five people crammed into the same room without a cheesy 1970s soul beat starting up on a synthesizer and a man arriving at the door to investigate the plumbing.

For those not in the know, the Freshblood Theatre Society is Warwick's new writing society for drama. If you've got a play-script you've written and you want to sort out workshopping, crew, cast, production team or venue, we're the people to go through. And twice a term we run the Freshblood Cabaret, a wonderful cavalcade of... well, just about anything. You get a whole host of material at the cabaret, because as long as it can fit into the top room above Kelsey's bar, we've got room for it.

Here's a little run down of what happened last night. 

James McPhun relinquished his usual role as house stand-up to take up the reigns as compere. Armed only with a vintage joke book and a blood alcohol level that rocketed through the evening he prepared the ground for a veritable army of talent:

Opening was Jimmy Kent who, despite protesting to having a terrible cold carried off the unenviable opening slot with style - and rapturous applause when he ended onhis (much-in-demand) "Red Light Girl". Think of it as a far less judgemental "Roxanne" and you're about there.

King Freshblood himself Sam Sedgman fired off a series of poems. Happy they weren't, but that didn't deter the audience, who stuffed the interlude between each poem with wild applause, even when he told them not to.

Hannah Tottenham (who had been protesting all week that she didn't want to perform) spoiled us with three violin solos. How the hell do you make a violin sound good? It's like the opposite of a harmonica, it's almost impossible to get a nice sound of it. Anyway Hannah managed it: she deserves some kind of tiny medal.

Cabaret had a virgin performer this time in the form of Martin Bowman who gave us an outstanding tragi-comic tale of one man's obsession with Hobby-Craft and origami, complete with 4,000 page flick-book and tiny paper frogs. A totally outstanding debut: I'm looking forwards to more.

Following the greenback came seasoned veteran Fiona Cox, one of those singer-song-writer types, ticking every one of the boxes - stage presence, check, beautiful guitar playing, check, masterful voice control - oh you know she's got it all. She's been before, no doubt we'll see her again - and bloody lucky we are too.

Rose Biggin, Queen of Cabaret (and the event co-ordinator if you've got an act you'd like to put on!) relinquished her role as compere for the first time to step up to the mike and blast us all down with an epic prose narrative composed entirely from Shakespeare puns. Laughs and groans in equal measure-for-measures!

Rounding out the first half were Joe Oldham and Kieren Thorpe, two students who fell through a time hole in the mid 1970s and landed in present-day Warwick. A real tour-de-force of protest rock and psychedelia, I can only commiserate with these guys that they never got to play Woodstock.

I feel I should comment on the interval, which was well rounded, filled with good conversation (and beer), and (as always) lots of lovely thespy people. I'd give it an 8 out of 10, at least.

Opening up round two was stand-up maestro Gareth Morina and a clip-board of delights. Ever laughed at a dead cat on the moon? You don't know what you're missing. Gareth's going to be the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, so make sure you catch him if you can.

Michael Sweetman & Friends (to my annoyance I don't have the names of the friends!) continued to be disgustingly talented with a mixture of their own music and Decembrists covers. I'm now considering buying the Decembrists' discography on the basis of hearing Sweetman and co. playing, and I'm worried that the original won't match up to the cover. They're worryingly good, and definitely my pick of the evening.

Next up was me, reading a little story called Dogs which I'm not going to be posting because I'm hoping to get it published. Anyone who saw it and has crit or comments, please post! I'm always on the look out for analysis. Apologies to anyone I might have made cry.

Tanya Wells brought the mood back up with more singer-song-writer shenanigans, with Bob Dylan style narrative songs and exquisite vocals. I've not seen her before, and I hope she makes a return visit to the cabaret so we can get a second round.

There was a wild scrabble for tables as An Evening Without Dignity (Zoe Bob Roberts, James McPhun Rose Biggin, Tim Gutteridge) set up for some sketch comedy. To my mind they were inciteful, witty, and absolutely hilarious - then again, since I'm directing them I might be somewhat biased. But the audience agreed with my glowing appraisal (the laugh for Dr. Halifax's overzealous smile alone fills me with warm fuzzies). For anyone hoping to catch more of the sketch show, you can see us at WSAF, the Warwick Student Art Festival, and at C-Central at the Edinburgh Fringe from the 1st to the 25th of August

Sadly I only had time to catch one more act before I was forced to run screaming from the venue and catch the last bus back to campus - fortunately that act was Poppy James. treating us to a rendition of Roald Dahl's "The Three Little Pigs". You got the impression that albeit Poppy has never shot a wolf, she might well keep a pistol in her knickers - she certainly carries Dahl's poem in her heart (as well as reciting it beautifully from memory).

Leaving when I did I missed comedy from Reckless Moment compere Tom Hughes and the excellent Nick Brown, and a musical number by the incredible Fran Lobo.

If you've never been to a cabaret before, you still have a chance - this year the Best of Cabaret will be performing at WSAF, with the pick of the year's acts. And if you're still at Warwick next year, then I have to recommend you come along - watching or taking part, you're guaranteed an incredible evening. 

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