The doorman explained – as tonight’s earlier show at La Boheme had run a little over time – a short wait outside was required before he could admit punters to The Glitter + Doom Salon.

He pointed at the poster in the window outlining all of the Cabaret Fringe shows scheduled at the venue – and there are quite a few – and told his enquirer that tonight’s show would feature a wide selection of performers from these shows performing either ‘their glitziest number, or their most depressing one – hence ‘glitter & doom’!’

Ah, so it was to be a sample bag show! How exciting!

Visions of showbags past suddenly flooded my memory, filled with rich treasures: Phantom comics, whoopee cushions, fake nose & glasses combos, sickly sweet confections, savoury snacks past their use-by dates, and vouchers for freebies and discounts on products you were the least likely person ever to need or want. Heaven in a carry bag!

Even as maturity claimed you, and despite recognising the collective uselessness of the selection these bags contained, you always fronted up year after year and bought your share of them, just in case their was an unexpected nugget of cultural gold contained in their crinkly paper outer disguise – like that time radio station 5KA had a showbag stand and each of their bags contained a failed 45rpm single, usually by by artists ilke Ronnie Burns, The New Dream or The Cowsills, all of which, over time, would become a crucial part of your artistic DNA. Maybe tonight’s show could provide another key piece of that still developing strand?

So, as the doorman announced to the hardy few waiting for entry that our tonight’s showbag was ready for inspection, I was filled with that delicious sense of expectation that every perpetually optimistic child feels at showtime each year.

However, as the contents were revealed – reality dawned. There was way too much filler here and just not enough glittering gold in this bag. There was no compelling narrative (a la The Ghost Who Walks comic); no comedy focus (a la the whoopee cushion, or similarly useless gag items); there were no compulsively sickly sweet treats either.

The MC for the evening, Jennifer Kingwell, who is starring in her own show, The Lotus Eaters, at this festival, struggled in this unfamiliar role.

Whereas her own show offers a host of surrealistic charms, here she missed the mark and had little idea as to how you keep a show pacy and lively. She was under-rehearsed and appeared  a tad rattled at times, causing her own showcase performances of Tom Waits songs to suffer as she forgot lyrics and was often off pitch.

The first half of the show lacked variety and was mainly built around interpretive dance numbers.

Chris Shepherd from Jack’s Back performed a ballet with a picture frame to the strains of Waits’ ‘Picture In A Frame’, which was an interesting but hardly exhilarating; there was a yawn inducing burlesque number – and then there was Jessica McKerlie…

McKerlie’s show Gender Spanner, where she explores the concept of gender fluidity, has been getting rave reviews and her first performance here, a frenetic ‘striptease’ to an electronically mutated version of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ was a clever visual metaphor for the way women are forced into the straitjacket of prevailing fashion at the cost of allowing them to define themselves and be comfortable with who they are.

After the resumption of festivities began, the program proved slightly more diverse in performance approaches – but the ‘sample’ of festival performers promised by our spruiking doorman was turning out to be a very small one as the second act was performed by the same cross-section of talent as the first.

Again, the highlight was McKerlie, who sang two self-penned numbers from her own show that were both as impressively tuneful as they were thought-provoking. She is a highly skilled wordsmith, and the song ‘Gender Issue Or Feminism?’ should be heard by as wide an audience as possible.

More uninspiring burlesque performances followed. These dances did, however, generate a spirited discussion post show about whether such performances are examples of eroticism or exhibitionism. Are they for the benefit of an audience, or solely cathartic for the performer? Maybe this discussion was a ‘hot topic’ as the show had finished in a ‘blaze of glory’ with Tasmania’s greatest burlesque talent setting her own derriere on fire.

So maybe there was a sort of whoopee cushion in the bag after all…and our MC returned to the stage at the conclusion to offer us 2 for 1 vouchers to other shows, so another essential element of our showbag was included as well.

This show runs every Saturday night through June, but such is its nature that the line-up will change as new shows open and need to be highlighted throughout the Cabaret Fringe Festival, so how each show unfolds will largely be a matter of chance.

You never know, you might get the Whopper Fun Bag, or you may only get the measly underwhelming one that your tight-fisted relative begrudgingly bought for you that year your own parents couldn’t find time to take you to the show themselves. But, if you are still attuned to that optimistic excitable child you once were and always assume treasure lurks in every sack of samples then you never know, The Glitter + Doom Salon’ may just deliver what you’ve always wanted!

Reviewed by Ken Grady