It is hard to categorise Jennifer Kingwell’s Cabaret Fringe Festival show, ‘The Lotus Eaters: A Chamber Cabaret’, other than to do what she so often does herself during her performance – and look to history and literature for her reference points. Hence, to paraphrase the words of Shakespeare’s befuddled character, Polonius, we can place this show somewhere in the spectrum of theatre forms which can be labelled ‘tragical-comical-historical-political, scene individable, or poem unlimited…’

The Lotus EatersWhat is much easier to assess is the quality of the musical accompaniment to her performance. The emotive and note-perfect Aurora String Quartet colour Kingwell’s compositions and her tasteful selection of cover versions beautifully with a delicate, subtle patina.

Kingwell bravely challenges herself and her audience with her song selection which often requires her to aim for a level of vocal dexterity that she does not quite possess – her version of David Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars?’ is a clear example – but the attempt is never less than enthralling and fascinating. She has a voice that is a hybrid of Tori Amos, Happy Rhodes and ‘Weren’t Born A Man’ era, Dana Gillespie which, when applied to singing covers of Tom Waits and The Shins songs, makes for unusual outcomes.

In between her complex musical sojourns, Kingwell regales the audience with some lyrical musings on history, politics and sex, and injects these with moments of unexpected surrealism such as appearing to inexplicably pull a rubber chicken out of her underwear that appears to have also laid a number of large diamonds whilst temporarily residing in her knickers.

The overall effect of the performance is it creates a disconcerting dislocation of the senses – but never quite achieving le petit mort. Jennifer Kingwell is a performer who is not afraid to defy any charge of pretentiousness and her technique of enjambing fragmented ideas into one unified art piece is, for the most part, highly successful.

A flawed beauty.

‘The Lotus Eaters: A Chamber Cabaret’ – next performance at La Boheme, 36 Grote Street, Adelaide will be on 24 June at 7.30pm. BOOK HERE.

4 stars

Reviewed by Ken Grady