Broken Christmas Cabaret (12.12.12) Review

Presented by Live Lab & Trashed Organ

Being a writer is lonely. Not always, but there’s no denying it: sometimes just seeing other people can help you get out of that editorial rut you seem to’ve been stuck in for months. Thank God, then, for Trashed Organ. Particularly, thank God (or any other deity of your choosing) for their Broken Christmas Cabaret; an opportunity for people like myself, so often working independently on various creative projects, to get out of the house, get drunk and appreciate some fine poetry, music and theatre in the company of like-minded souls. I arrived just in time to grab my first bottle of Writer’s Block from the bar and take a seat in the Undercroft for a performance by New Writing North’s Cuckoo Young Writers. Four performers gave us their individual spins on all the highs and lows of the festive season before getting together and harmonising a unique and hilarious reworking of the 12 Days of Christmas. I seem to remember a refrain about an STI and a cheeky dig at George Osborne. Be careful what you wish for, kids…

With just enough time to refill the drinks (I managed a mouthful of the Broken Cabaret 75 cocktail – interesting, but I’ll stick to the ales, ta very much), we were ushered to the theatre for the main event. First up were the Noize Choir, a 9 piece ensemble resembling – but sounding little like – a hodge-podge group of carol singers. The lights were cut and the music began: spectral a-capella voices moaned, in the best possible way, through the merry classics as bright whirly things (see photos) provided guttural backing notes to the slowed-down-spun-on-its-head display of festive favourites.

Changing things round completely, Tim Turnbull took to the stage, sporting the evening’s sharpest suit, complimented by a cheek plaster – “not a fashion statement, I cut meself shaving”, the Yorkshireman flatly told us. Turnbull is one of the most accomplished performance poets I’ve ever seen, effortlessly mixing measured lines and memorable imagery with a deadpan, wrapped-round-his-little-finger delivery. Excellent stuff. Just before the interval, Jane Holman took to the stage, performing a one-woman micro vignette, Tis the Season by Paddy Campbell. Presumed to be on the other end of the phone to someone contemplating suicide, this short but pithy piece, perfectly acted out by Holman, allowed for a pertinent moment of sobriety and a chance for us to consider those less fortunate – or less stable – in this time of excess. Monkey Junk, admitting to being slightly amazed at playing Live Theatre, then charmed us with virtuoso renditions of classic blues songs and a few original numbers, proving that guitar music isn’t all about tight jeans and haircuts, or whatever it is about on Radio 1 these days.

Back to the bar. The Noize Choir sang carols with buckets atop their heads. I drank something green, took a trip to the facilities then made my way back to the table with two more drinks in tow. Warning: the second half saw my drunkenness increase fivefold, so the following shouldn’t be taken to be strictly true, but that’s Trashed Organ for you!

Bookending the interval was another piece of flash theatre. Alison Carr, Mary, Jesus’s Mam allowed us to reconsider the nativity from the point of view of a single mother from Byker. Dropping her prop – a baby dol ‘Jesus’ – as she left stage, Carr’s rendition of the mother who couldn’t care less but really does, was flawlessly funny. Up next was Kate Fox, former poet-in-residence for another Tyneside tradition: the Great North Run. An animated Fox captivated us with some of her running poems, reminding us why it’s the taking part that counts, before closing on an upbeat and witty ukulele duet with her husband, Alfie Crow.

Matt Stalker and Fables took to the stage as the ‘headliners’, though I think it’s fair to say that the term doesn’t really feel right. Stalker is a beguiling lyricist and performer and is clearly very comfortable on stage, but credit must also be given to his band, who brought their performance up a few notches on the rock ’n’ roll scale. The highlight for me was dancing to a Christmas song in a small gap amidst the tables. I’ve no idea what the song was, but I know that it, like the band’s others, was performed with the same trademark mix of energy and innovation that makes me appreciate them so much. Top stuff.

The Trashed Laureate, the now traditional denouement to any Trashed Organ event, closed the night, with some lucky person whom I can’t remember taking the prize of a bottle of port wrapped in a huge cracker for penning the night’s best line of poetry. As the crowd left and the house lights came up, it was evident by the amount of streamers, sprouts and festive paraphernalia of all sorts adorning the floor that Melanie, John, Gez, Rosie and all the performers had made the event live up to its name. I can’t wait for next year; just let me get over this hangover first…

by Jake Campbell
Photographs (c) Jonathan Parker

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