7 August, 2017
Written by Deen Hamaker
The Strange Bedfellows are a formidable duo comprising Jacqueline Dark and Kanen Breen. Dark is a renowned mezzo-soprano famed for her performances in opera (Herodias, Fricka, Amneris) and more recently as Mother Superior in the national tour of The Sound of Music. Breen, star tenor was recently seen in the Adelaide Festival’s production of Saul in March and in Sydney in his stunning portrayal of the clown Truffaldino in Opera Australia’s The Love of Three Oranges. Together, “Bedfellows” has been causing havoc and consternation across the nation’s cabaret circuit. Their mix of smut, pathos, profanity and musical sophistication is intoxicating and has won plaudits everywhere they have played.
Under the Covers, their first season in Sydney in 2015 at the Vanguard led to shows in Melbourne and at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. It was a show that covered a broad range of emotions from the wickedness of a faux opera about a couple’s adventures with their long-suffering dog, to Soft Cell’s Tainted Love performed as a dark opera revenge aria Vedorbene Liebe ‘auf Deutsch’. There was an added element of tragedy as they explored their personal experiences of having a child.
Come 2017, there is an altogether darker tone to their material. Built around the idea of the things that frustrate and drive us crazy, Bedlam explores a range of topics from contemporary politics, narcissism and family to same sex marriage. But there were still some hilarious moments. The faux propagandist gospel song, _____ is the devil’s door knob, set as a rollicking country number penned by Jacqueline Dark was one of the funniest cabaret numbers I’ve seen. Set with tongue firmly in cheek, the number was a wonderful mix of witty smut and musical invention.
But it was in the starker moments that these two really show the depth of their talent. Kanen Breen explored the feeling of being vilified by going back to having “Faggot!!” screamed at him while he sang the National Anthem at a major sporting event in 2015 whilst wearing a rainbow tie. There was a palpable feeling of hurt and the anguish of being treated as a second-class citizen. Likewise, Dark’s searing insights of the joys and pain of family were brimming with hurt and frustration. Dark has a beautiful, richly dramatic mezzo- soprano voice and she does not shy away from growling when necessary. Breen’s high, bright tenor has grown in weight over the years and his voice continues to be one of the best on the Australian stage. Together, these two are a redoubtable musical force, more so when their fare is served up with their sizable comedic talents and their sensational acting chops.
It is easy between the laughter and tears to forget the stunning musicality that underlies the creativity. A Ramones song is taken and reset to the accompaniment of the last of Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe song cycle, presented as a classical art song by “The Ramonesky Quartet”. A wordless lied by Webern ends up morphing into a song by Jacques Brel. We are treated to touches of Carmen; and who will forget the final number that ends up becoming an aria from Philip Glass’s opera, Akhenaten, sung in Ancient Egyptian and accompanied by hand held mini glockenspiel. Kudos to Musical Director Daryl Wallis who played superbly throughout directing from the keyboard whilst trying to control the outrageousness on stage and obviously relishing every minute of the show.
Breen and Dark bring their substantial operatic backgrounds to their cabaret work but make no mistake, this is not about opera singers attempting to go alternative. This is cabaret at its best – the real thing with exceptional musical sophistication and social commentary under a surface of craziness and depravity. Their 2015 performances of Under the Covers revealed their potential. With Bedlam in 2017, we are seeing more of what they are capable of. We can only look forward with excitement and some trepidation to what these two will do next in their cabaret adventure.
A night with the Strange Bedfellows always promises musical sophistication, a level of depravity and the thrill of being shocked. Unfortunately, the season is over, but the Bedfellows will be back soon and woe be tide if you miss them again.
Deen Hamaker for SoundsLikeSydney©
Deen Hamaker is a passionate opera aficionado and commentator. Introduced to theatre, opera and classical music at a very young age, he has acted in and directed several theatre productions, both in Australia and overseas. Deen lived in Japan for several years and studied the performing arts of Asia. Deen’s particular passion is opera, particularly the Russian, French and Modern repertoire. Deen was a contributing author for “Great, Grand and Famous Opera Houses”, 2012. Fluent in Japanese, Deen holds a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese from Griffith University and currently lives in Sydney.