Created and performed by two founding members of the Australian feminist cabaret troupe Lady Sings It Better, Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin is an atypically informative and well-researched 60-minute cabaret piece focusing on the politicised history of gin.
In the basement of the Rose Theatre, Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood interweave a strong musical setlist and strikingly tight harmonies with captivating and often sobering (not apologising for that pun…) tales about their favourite spirit’s past. We hear about the Savoy firing Ada Coleman (inventor of the Hanky-Panky) after complaints from businessmen about being served by a woman. We’re told how gin played a part in African colonisation (through a ‘malarian burlesque’ parody of Little Willie John’s Fever…obviously), and a public protest conducted in 1965 by two women in Brisbane due to them not being allowed to drink in the bar. The latter only occurred 52 years ago; Marsden and Wood embody the pain of protestors Thornton and Bognor with sensitivity.
Both performers command excellent, easy stage presences that you cannot help but warm to – as well as demonstrate superb vocals (particularly in the latter half, when they appeared to let go a little more). Pianist Tom Dickins is a pleasure to watch and listen to also, occasionally lending his voice to impressive three-part-harmony sections.
All I’d say is everything is quite tame for a show that purports to be ‘strictly 16+’ and a cabaret homage to alcohol. The show intellectually engages and provides plenty of ‘pause for thought’ moments, but occasionally seems to think its form is more risqué than it is. Sure, the F word gets used intermittently but that’s about as inflammatory as anything gets; the predominantly elderly audience happily clap along to a rendition of Oom-Pah-Pah from Oliver! towards the end but it was a little bit twee for me. A little more ‘bite’ during the audience interaction sections, and/or the incorporation of a ‘rug pull’ moment when you felt somewhat implicated or compromised may have ensured just a little more of the subversive potential of cabaret. At the moment, its gentle 6.15pm time slot makes sense to me – but I’d imagine the makers were aiming for it to have a little more debaucherous or late-night feel to it.
The show’s singalong finale, though – a fun reworking of I’ve Been Everywhere (renamed ‘I’ve Drunk Every Gin’) – is worth the ticket price alone. A great example of the performers’ infectious energy and formidable commitment to gin. A fun and exceedingly watchable hour – just lacking the ‘bite’ it would need to stay in my mind for weeks/months to come.