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Campfire Cabaret: The Legend of Deirdre

Campfire Cabaret: The Legend of Deirdre | Review by Georgia McKenzie. Thursday 20 May, at UQ Great Court. Presented by Etch Events.

A subversion of cabaret and tragic tales, Campfire Cabaret presents a distinctly feminist portrayal of the Irish Deirdre myth.

The performance begins with Anina-Marie Warrener – the talented woman who created, composed, and directed the piece – warmly welcoming us into the space. She briefly discusses the long tradition of gathering around a campfire to tell stories or sing songs. It is part of an oral history that is still maintained today, and Warrener herself has a personal connection to this tradition as it was an important part of her upbringing. When she begins to sing it reverberates off the walls of the Great Court, creating a resonating ambience. For the next hour I am transported into a dimension of disbelief with Warrener, who also plays the character of Blathnaid, as I imagine the world that she has re-imagined through song.

While the songs were relatively simple, they perfectly suited the folk genre and the mythical story of Dierdre. Due to the title containing Cabaret I was expecting a slightly different style to that which was presented. I would normally imagine cabaret as a form that over sexualises women through costume and dance; however, Campfire Cabaret subverts this with a feminist twist. The lyrics also cement a feminist perspective that women should have autonomy and deserve the space to write their own narratives. I really loved all of the feminist elements, and most importantly I found the whole performance extremely fun to experience! The cast featured four singers with voices that contrasted and at times complimented each other. Though mostly singing seamlessly, I did notice that there were some occasional pitching issues with one singer who was often singing out-of-tune. I don’t think that it was their fault, though; I think that it may have just been technical issues and the fact that they didn’t have foldback, which would have provided the musicians with the capacity to hear themselves properly. I would recommend having foldback in future performances as this will hopefully solve this issue.

I really loved the way that Etch Events chose to occupy the space! First of all, the buildings surrounding the Great Court felt very appropriate to the story presented because the old sandstone buildings look like a castle you might find in a fairy tale. We were welcomed into the performance area by a path lit by candles before being greeted by their ushers. I was delighted to find that all guests were to be provided with sweet and salty popcorn! Yum! What a treat! The seating was very relaxed boho style with bean bags on mandala mats and recliner chairs surrounding the performance space in a semi-circle. Directly in the centre was the highlighting (literally and metaphorically) feature: the ‘fire’. Now I will admit that I was slightly disappointed that the fire was not real. I realised later how silly I was to think there would be one considering the bureaucratic clearance that would be required to have a literal fire on UQ Campus. The theatrical fire was so beautiful and dainty and suited the piece perfectly! My viewing companion said that it gave them mythical Irish wisp aesthetics, while I felt that describing it as boho-fairy-lantern-chic was also appropriate.

Overall, this was a very fun and relaxed evening of music and storytelling highlighting that women are not the property or spectacle of men. Well done to Warrener and her creative team for giving audiences the opportunity to journey with them to a feminist fairy-tale world… If only for a moment.