A celebration of sadness

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Paul McDermott: The Dark Garden, Unplugged

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

January 24 – January 25

When he was younger, Paul McDermott was told that he had the voice of an angel, but the mind of the devil. And this is certainly evident in his cabaret show “The Dark Garden” which is simultaneously transcendentally beautiful and crassly vulgar. This is an unusual but enthralling cabaret, darkly woeful in its musical lamentation as McDermott takes the audience on a journey inside his head and through the five stages of grief (this isn’t the comedy festival, he reminds) of Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Cross Dressing and Acceptance.

Despite his dapper, waistcoated appearance, McDermott begins with reflection on his recent life as a broken man. Indeed, the cycle of original songs has evolved in response to losses of loved ones and it is difficult not to be moved by their poignancy, particularly when their sentiment is being shared by McDermott’s comforting, dulcet tones, particularly the emotional ‘Her Agoraphobic Hands’ and ‘Transcended’. Lighting too, captures the sombre mood, while also contributing to the show’s sense of cabaret intimacy, despite the larger Powerhouse Theatre venue. This is complemented by the backdrop of original, evocative artwork filled with the shadowy imagery of ghoulish creatures, totems to lost loved ones and products of his acclaimed The Dark Garden exhibition (under the name Young Master Paul) at the 2013 Adelaide Fringe Festival.

But it is not all doom and gloom; McDermott’s celebration of sadness is punctuated by witty anecdotes from his personal life and career. These include stories of his time as scampy front man of (self-proclaimed) comic supergroup The Doug Anthony All Stars, such as the tale of a shared bill with the Great Lamaro, whose goose appeared to be able to predict the future through responsive honks which were, in reality, reactions to pokes of his owner’s inserted thumb. And of course there are the obligatory topical political references to Tony Abbott and Campbell Newman, as well as a dig at Toowoomba, which are delivered with impeccable comic timing and trademark cheeky charm.

“The Dark Garden” is an intensely personal theatrical experience that showcases McDermott’s talent as lyrical poet and painter, as much as singer and comic. His intensely intimate relationship with the subject matter creates an audience connection, of which it is a privilege to be a part. Despite its solemnity, however, it is, ultimately, a lyrical ride to a satisfying, if not happy place with a natural performer. And in terms of good nights out, it’s a lot better than seeing a guy stick his thumb up a duck’s clacker.

Photo c/ohttp://brisbanepowerhouse.org/

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