Dillie Keane – Richmond Theatre

Dillie Keane - cSteve ullathorne

Picture: Steve Ullathorne

Dillie Keane performed at Richmond Theatre.

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Life’s not fair, is it, and it’s almost a sin that someone with so many talents exists, but the wonderful Dillie Keane wore her genius lightly in two hours of pure bliss at Richmond at the end of a tour promoting her Hello Dillie! DVD and, at the same time, enhancing all our lives.

The 37-date tour kicked off at Guildford in early February but there was no sign of battle fatigue in adapting her cabaret act, not so different from the one I reviewed at The Pheasantry a couple of years ago, to a big theatre like Richmond where she was greatly helped by the excellent acoustics and a large audience eating out of the palm of her hand.

The DVD was made at the Soho Theatre last November with her suave tour accompanist Michael Roulston and this is a sublime actress who absolutely needs to be seen rather than just heard on CD.

Of all the many cabaret artists I have heard around the world, Keane comes closest to perfection in an act oozing with polish, truly great songwriting and exceptional storytelling skills, particularly those involving toothless, 80-fags-a-day clairvoyants or Hungarian readers of Tarot cards in Canberra.

A gift for getting an audience onside from the get-go is another great plus and, oh yes, she’s a pretty decent singer, pianist and impersonator too.

It all started with some hilarious bedtime contortions on top of the piano in ‘My Average Morning’, when to her horror she found an alien extra arm behind her, and she spent the rest of the time either making us wobble with laughter or surreptitiously sneaking out a hankie at her more serious compositions.

I don’t know about her dancing, but she can do pretty well everything else in the showbiz spectrum – she’s a first-rate actress who will be playing Madame Armfeldt in A Little Night Music at Newbury’s Watermill this summer.

She’s also been a newspaper columnist and, of course, she’s principally known as founder 34 years ago of Fascinating Aida with her songwriting collaborator Adele Anderson.

The group are going it as solo performers for the time being, but a reunion tour next year is planned.

Keane has now been making us laugh at her gentrified vulgarity for so long that it’s easy 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) were wistful, reflective songs that truly moved us.

She beautifully captured the torment of childless wives (‘Little Shadows, Little Ghosts’) while the belated thrill of middle-age romance (‘Late Love’) – “like the autumn crocus” – tugged the heartstrings.

She didn’t find her current partner of 18 years until she was 47 and is still full of the joys of spring about her good luck.

The song about the charmer “of Eastern mystery” she met in an Irish bar who said he owned “a parade of shops in Willesden”, and not only that “was the most feared man in the cheese business”, represented 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.

‘Shattered Illusions’, about a date who appeared perfect until he took out his nice white teeth at night, his toupee started to drift and he told her to call him Betty, was lacerating funny; while ‘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” (what a great line), sent shivers down the spine.

Its rising F-word count and ferocious punchline had a few matrons of affluent Richmond tut-tutting at the interval…and on a Sunday too!

The sweetness and gentle reflection of ‘Single Again’ and ‘Out of Practice’, two songs about patching life up after a relationship breaks down, belonged together and will have resonated with many in an evening of unique material performed with flair and immaculate timing. What a star she is!

Jeremy Chapman

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