Monday, 20 August 2012

After Death, All is Dust

Caught up in the bustle of the Fringe, it becomes easy to forget that performers are human and not merely objects on a conveyor belt of entertainment. Hidden behind scripts or choreography, the individual, full of aspirations and  vulnerable, is lost: art devolves to commodity and its worth is defined by the number of stars that it manages to plaster over its poster.

Fortunately, Dusty Limits is too abrasive, too compassionate, to disappear. Post-Mortem was on the Free Fringe: inspired by Limits' preoccupation with death, and animated by his mordant wit, it is a reminder of how cabaret can still be a home to a talent that is too idiosyncratic and sardonic to ever be tamed into light entertainment.

Limits has always advocated decadence as a response to oppression. He describes Post-Mortem as a sort of theatrical obituary in jokes and songs, revisiting past success - the transgendered version of  Portishead's Glory Box and adding new routines - Mr Greedy becomes a bedtime parable for the financially excluded. Yet beneath the throwaway gags about heroin addiction and sexual frustration, the apparent libertine has a fierce revolutionary sensibilty.

While many cabaret artists have a single skill and rightfully push it - Camille can reinterpret songs by rock songwriters in surprising ways, Frank Sanazi blends shock and awe - Dusty Limits proves himself more versatile. He cracks open Bowie's Ashes to Ashes to expose the wounded junkie at its heart: he reinvigorates obscure Weimar songs. He writes songs that meld jaunty vaudeville with astute satire and his comedy routines rage against the oppressive God so often advertised by conservative Christians, the tyranny of the financial markets and idiocy of politicians. He is astute like a stand up but, surprisingly for a man who seems to celebrate his egotism (his idea of audience participation is to ask and not listen), lacks the monomania of the comedian.

It's easy to forget that performers are human, and easy to forget that entertainment can be political, engaged, even theological. Limits, the joker with the hysterical face, brooding then cheeky, possessed of a voice that charms angels and summons demons, embracing the spirit of Weimar cabaret without descending to pastiche, stand proud in his persona that cannot help but expose his humanity.

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