Leah Flanagan - Midnight Muses

Melanie Burge

ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL: The world premiere of her new cabaret reveals that while Flanagan is a performer of great skill, her show itself has the potential for further development.
Leah Flanagan - Midnight Muses
An Australian luminary of the art form once told me that cabaret can take many shapes, but at its core it should contain three things: live music, the telling of some kind of story, and direct interaction with the audience. It’s not real ‘cabaret’ unless it manages somehow to blend these three ingredients together. On that basis, Leah Flanagan’s new show is a promising first glimpse of a work which shows great potential.

The Darwin-based Flanagan, who is of Indigenous Australian, Irish and Italian descent, has an increasing national profile as a singer-songwriter in her own right, and is also known as a member of the internationally-acclaimed Black Arm Band. Already this year she has performed at a number of high-profile festivals including Woodford Folk Festival, WOMADelaide, Blue Mountains Music Festival, Ten Days on the Island and Byron Bay Bluesfest.

Musically, Midnight Muses: It Begins to Tell is wonderful. On a cold night in Adelaide, the warmth of Flanagan’s voice takes us momentarily to a tropical beach at sunset; she achieves a gorgeous vocal depth and richness. The performance by Flanagan on vocals/ukulele and her band (Melanie Robinson on cello, Jamie Blechynden on guitar, Matt Earl on drums, Tom Jones on double bass and Brian Manning on keyboards) is slickly rehearsed and faultless, never missing a beat.

Coming to a performance billed as ‘cabaret’, though, I expected something a little more than just great live music. I wanted to hear a story unfold and to feel a genuine connection with the performers, and this is where the show has room to develop and grow.

Flanagan tells us that most of the songs in Midnight Muses: It Begins to Tell are adapted from the poems of a friend of hers, poet Samuel Wagan Watson, and Flanagan approaches these adaptations in both song and spoken word. The lyrical imagery in some songs is captivating, evoking such characters as an elderly, ex-boxing champ reminiscing on his glory days. I found myself wanting to hear more about these people, hoping that they would take shape, but they stayed teasingly fragmentary.

I wanted also to feel that I’d gotten to know Flanagan a little over the course of the show, but as a person and performer she remained elusive. Despite a skilful, charismatic performance, Flanagan’s interaction onstage with the band and with the audience was circumspect; and at 50 minutes the show felt like a brief glimpse of this talented artist’s capabilities.

Leah Flanagan - Midnight Muses: It Begins to Tell
Space Theatre
June 15 – 16

Adelaide Cabaret Festival
June 10 – 25

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Melanie Burge is the program coordinator for the inaugural Adelaide arts and sustainability festival WOMAD Earth Station. She has enjoyed working and partying on a range of cross-arts festivals, including Adelaide Fringe, Brisbane Festival, Ten Days On The Island, WOMADelaide, Christchurch Arts Festival, Prague Fringe, Sydney Festival, Melbourne Fringe and Brighton Fringe. These have afforded her many memorable experiences, including managing an inflatable ice skating rink, dodging roadkill on Bruny Island, and having dinner with Kamahl.