Adelaide Cabaret Festival
The Space
Until 13 Jun 2019

Review by Sarah Westgarth

Tina Del Twist begins her show by gulping from a comically large glass of wine, welcoming the audience to Carols by Candlelight, and introducing the Letter String Quartet by her side as the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Her speech is slurred, her manner is casual, and she launches into her first number—a Christmas tune, of course—with a breezy and sparkling ease. From there, we are taken to a wedding, a funeral, a birth, and New Year’s Eve, as Del Twist muses on what these universal, significant events are like when you feel like an outsider. It’s a tremendous idea to explore in a cabaret setting, which is by nature a communal and social art form. The atmosphere is turned on its head as often Del Twist sings as though we aren’t even there. There’s a cosiness to the maudlin, confident energy she exudes, but a great tragedy in it too. She explains how she doesn’t care for marriage, yet ends up at many weddings after being asked to sing. She gives a glorious performance of ‘At Last’, which provokes cheers at the first line, but when she’s done, she finds she’s not been given a seat at the reception.

Not all of Tina Del Twist’s wry observations get big laughs, but then again, maybe they’re not supposed to. There’s an awkwardness to the performance that works, as the contrast between the exuberant singer and her isolated inner world is drawn ever clearer. It’s not all tragic—in one of the more poignant lines of the show, Del Twist says she likes being alone, because then you tend to find other alone people, and it’s there you find your tribe. There’s a celebration in being a misfit, even when acknowledging how lonely it is too.

Every number is a highlight, punctuating the themes with sharp, dramatic resonance. Del Twist’s smooth and sultry vocals are perfectly supported by the Letter String Quartet. This group’s musicality is unmatched; their instrumental accompaniment (including on one occasion, a hauntingly played saw) carries much of the emotional weight of the show. Steph O'Hara, Lizzy Welsh, Zoë Barry and Biddy Connor each deserve top billing along with Tina Del Twist. The quartet also provides backing vocals, and when all five voices soar in harmony it is truly breathtaking.

All together funny, sad, and cathartic, but above all achingly human, this night with Tina Del Twist and the Letter String Quartet is time well spent, in a room where no one could feel like they don’t belong.