***.5 STARS

By Nick Pilgrim

Since its creation in 2010, the Melbourne Cabaret Festival has gone from strength to strength. Covering shows for this popular cultural event, is an ongoing and fascinating education. Meaning, what exactly frames and defines the genre, seems to change with every offering.

This season is no exception.

Of the three shows I critiqued in 2021, “The Broken Mill” would have to be the most ambitious, daring and yes, experimental. Less a standard hour dotted with popular tunes linked by personal stories or witty anecdotes, it is much closer in structure to a short-form chamber musical.

In 2014, I first experienced this story-telling format through two different pieces, “Everyone Loves Lucy” (starring Elise McCann), and “Guilty Pleasures” (fronted by Angelique Cassimatis). Stripped down to absolute basics, each work possessed strong characterisation supported by a sharp and concise narrative. It should be noted in their respective attempts to capture and maintain audience attention, both shows sacrificed little through this filtration process.

Given their chance to shine as individuals and overall, “Picked Last For Sport” is a ten-strong group of Latrobe University alumni.  Numbering six singers and four musicians, this fully-invested team consists of:

  • Isobel Caldwell (on bass guitar);
  • Freya Long (on guitar);
  • Cole McKenna (as Marcus);
  • Jake Matricardi (as Mary);
  • Cat Sanzaro (as Jeanie);
  • Ryan Smith as (Mr Pitiful);
  • Sean Sully (on keyboard);
  • Emily Teague-Hall (as Birdie);
  • Sarah Wall (as Mama); and,
  • James Wingard (on drums).

At sixty-minutes in length, “The Broken Mill” pays homage to some very specific source material. They are Baz Luhrmann’s motion picture, “Moulin Rouge”, and two Broadway classics, “Cabaret” and “Chicago” (by John Kander and Fred Ebb). Meaning, like a Belle Epoque spectacular or German Expressionist painting come to life, this is cabaret marking the genre’s birth.

“The Broken Mill” is about a tribe of troubled misfit entertainers. Each burdened with their own tale of woe, they are managed and parented by the enigmatic ringmaster, Mama. Whether they escape her manipulative clutches or not, one needs to watch to find out.

Consisting of twelve catchy and original songs, with elements of mime, bawdy humour and ballet thrown in for good measure, the performers and musicians take command and grab your attention from the outset. Strong costuming and circus quality make-up quickly establish both character and mood. Dramatic lighting and solid sound design were also clean and clear.

Like “Anya Anastasia presents Torte E Mort: Songs of Cake and Death” which played in 2015 at the Melba Spiegeltent in Collingwood, “The Broken Mill” appears designed with a very specific and perhaps millennial audience in mind. In those terms alone, it can be deemed a success.