Dillie Keane in Cabaret at The Pheasantry, London continues until 14 June.
Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★
It’s almost a sin that someone with so many talents exists but the wonderful Dillie Keane wears her genius lightly in two hours of pure bliss at The Pheasantry.
I don’t know about her dancing, but the founder of Fascinating Aida can do pretty well everything else in the showbiz spectrum – she’s been a first-rate actress and newspaper columnist on top of sublime singer-songwriter-pianist skills – but cabaret is surely her natural home.
Keane has now been making us laugh at her gentrified vulgarity for 32 years and here she is in a three-week King’s Road residency going solo while her longtime partner-in-rhyme Adele Anderson is hors de combat (but thankfully making progress).
It would be a mistake to think she’s just a wickedly funny interpreter of the naughty songs she and Anderson have entertained with for so many uproarious years (and, yes, do think twice before taking your maiden aunt along). There’s far more to it than humour.
Intermingled with the comedy gold of ‘Internet Love’, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice to Be a Lesbian’ and ‘This Ain’t the Hokey Cokey Anymore’ (about the difficulties of lovemaking when hearing aids, bifocals, stoutness and bad knees have to be factored into the equation) are wistful, reflective songs that truly move us.
Songs about childless women (‘Little Shadows, Little Ghosts’), middle-age romance (‘Late Love’) that’s “like the autumn crocus” tug the heartstrings and there are the regretful ones like ‘Go Back to Surabaya, Johnny’ written “to cure ourselves of falling for loveable bastards”.
The lust on that occasion was wasted on a charmer “of Eastern mystery” who said he owned “a parade of shops in Willesden” and not only that “was the most feared man in the cheese business”.
This is the craft of songwriting at its most precise, every word chosen with great care and always with an eye and ear for a laugh behind the bitter dig.
‘Pam’, the other woman in a love triangle ordered to “get your snout out of my trough” because “one swallow doesn’t make a lover”, also has the ring of truth about it while ‘Single Again’ and ‘Out of Practice’, two songs about patching life up after a relationship breaks down, belong together and resonated with many.
Impersonations of various fortune-tellers she has summoned for guidance are spot-on hilarious on an evening when the audience is asked to run through a multitude of emotions but always with the punchline of humour to soften the personal moments.
Sam Cable accompanies at the piano, joining her in song for the ‘Lesbian’ routine, and on the night I went a guest appearance from the great Barb Jungr (singing Joni Mitchell’s ‘Carey’) was a most welcome bonus.
But it was Keane’s show of course and what a fascinating encounter with a fascinating lady it turned out to be. Splendid, unique material performed with flair and brilliance.