“I’D like to get away with a little bit of murder,” cabaret artist Dolly Diamond’s alter ego Michael Dalton tells “CityNews” by phone from Melbourne, “but the secret is having a go at the audience without murdering them.”
Dolly/Dalton will be performing here at The Famous Spiegeltent in early March, part of a glittering line-up of artists, and they don’t glitter more gaily than Dolly. Praised for her extraordinary singing of familiar songs, she isn’t quite Dame Edna Everage, but declares him/herself one of the Dame’s greatest fans, describing her as “one of the best of the best”.
“I considered Dolly to be a cabaret act rather than a drag show,” he asserts, “a worldly woman whose motto is ‘que sera, sera’ and who likes talking about herself rather than dispensing advice… she goes to the next level from just being a bitch.”
An Australian resident since 2009, Dalton knows Canberra well, as Julian Clary’s backing act some years ago, and is also familiar with the Spiegeltent, where he played for three nights recently in the Andrews Sisters’ show “The Bugle Boys”.
A showbiz babe since the age of 14, Dalton was a child-actor in “Oliver!” on the West End, later touring with “The Rocky Horror Show” around Europe.
Like Edna, he says: “I am lucky to have that knack of finding a willing victim in the audience, but there are odd occasions when I’m wrong, so I move on bloody quick.”
The Famous Spiegeltent may sound as European as Marlene Dietrich, but ours (there are many) has a strong Canberra flavour, too.
Owned by impresario and former Canberran David Bates, who used to run late-night cabarets with “CityNews” theatre reviewer Joe Woodward, this beautiful old Belgian “mirror tent” was last in Canberra for the Centenary celebrations at the Senate Rose Garden at Old Parliament House.
In a moment of nostalgia mixed with business acumen, the director of the Canberra Theatre, Bruce Carmichael, persuaded Bates to pitch his tent in Civic Square and hired a co-producer to fill it up with snazzy musical and cabaret acts.
That producer, Douglas Hunter, is also an old Canberran who lived here during the ‘70s and early ‘80s and ran a club in Phillip, later becoming a promoter of big concerts at Bruce Stadium featuring the likes of Johnny Cash and Rod Stewart.
Hunter moved to Melbourne to manage Aussie bands, then later to England where he now lives, producing small festivals and taking acts to Edinburgh. He ran into Carmichael at the Sydney Festival and the pair hatched the idea of a large-scale pop-up showbiz extravaganza to begin the theatre’s 2016 subscription season.
Hunter tells “CityNews” he knows all about the ACT’s rules and regulations for putting such shows on, but he also has a degree of knowhow about our local scene, engaging top artists from the Canberra diaspora such as Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen and George Washingmachine, together with contemporary local performers such as Fred Smith, Shortis and Simpson and Chrissie Shaw.
The showpiece, selling stupendously well, is the central showcase of magic, dance and acrobatics packaged as “La Clique” that’s been running in the Spiegeltent for 12 years. But he knows that “La Clique” is “really for people who don’t see a lot of theatre and love the razzmatazz of 80 minutes with aerialists, dancers and magic”.
That’s why he’s programmed darker, more intimate, risque late-night cabaret shows from people such as Dolly and Yana Alana (Sarah Ward) as well as high-profile national acts, including Robyn Archer.
With an average of three stand-alone shows a day at 6.30pm, 8.30pm (“La Clique”) and 10.30pm, there will also be an outdoor bar and eatery designed to feed and water patrons and to lure unsuspecting Canberrans who might like to buy in or simply sit around and schmooze.
“Dolly Diamond, alive and intimate”, 10.30pm, March 3. “La Clique” and all Spiegeltent shows, February 19-March 14, at bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.