The new co-Artistic Directors, who are taking over the role from Barry Humphries, will curate 2016 and 2017’s festivals.

Under the lights of a packed Backstage Club, Barry Humphries revealed what everyone had been waiting for: who was going to be given the challenge of stepping into his shoes, taking the Adelaide Cabaret Festival into its 16th year and beyond.

“I always thought it would be hard for someone to do it,” he chortled, “but now I know who it is, I couldn’t be happier. Mr Eddie Perfect and Miss Ali McGregor, together, will make a wonderful team and I wish them all the very best.”

The moment had been preceded by two fantastic performances from Eddie and Ali and was followed by an entertaining duet between the two which included local references and several Adelaide in jokes. The crowd loved it and, despite no rehearsal, it was greeted with rapturous applause. Already there was evidence of clear chemistry between the two and a great partnership.

Barry Humphries with Ali McGregor and Eddie Perfect (photo: Claude Raschella)

Both AIi and Eddie are young, established artists at the top of their fields, with several Green Room and Helpmann Awards between them, international reputations reinforced by strong home grown support. Their combined talents are enviable and, if the buzz in the Festival Centre after the announcement was anything to go by, the decision to have the two sharing the coveted Artistic Director’s role, after Barry’s record breaking year, was absolutely the right thing to do.

Interestingly, although the announcement of the new AD’s to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival has been a closely guarded secret for several months, it transpires the seed was first sown in Ali McGregor’s mind six years ago.

On the last night of the Cabaret Festival in 2009, the first of David Campbell’s reign, Ali was chatting to David in the Intercontinental hotel bar. Having been so impressed by her performance in her show Jazz Cigarette as well as the way she curated and hosted the Late Night Variety Club, he leaned over and said, “You know, Ali, you could do this job one day!”

Back then, it was just a distant dream. Now, the reality of the role and the task ahead is all sinking in. Taking on the mantle from the legendary Barry Humphries would be a daunting challenge for many but, coupled with Eddie, she’s set to give it her all.

“We’re both so looking forward to this. It’s going to be really special. Eddie and I have known each other for ten years and have worked together a lot and it’s always been really fabulous collaborating with him.”

Unfazed by the pressure, she sees the move to appoint her and Eddie jointly as a very sensible move by the Festival. “Barry is wonderful and an absolute Icon. He’s such a massive part of the history of entertainment and performance in Australia. And that’s not just cabaret; he’s very much part of how Australia is seen by the rest of the world. It’s been great this year to reflect on where we’ve come from and where we stand artistically. But I think it’s now important that Eddie and I use all that has been done before to really look to the future.”

Eddie and Ali first met at the Melbourne Comedy Festival and have been great friends as well as admirers of each other’s work ever since. Their paths have crossed many times. Eddie has appeared as a guest on Ali’s variety night show, they have the Beggar’s Opera and Threepenny Opera in common and they’ve both recently taken an interest in children’s entertainment too, most notably with Eddie landing a starring role on Playschool, a role she confesses she’s desperately jealous about, but jokes, “I don’t want to talk about!”

Although their appointments have only just been made public, behind the scenes the two have been formulating their vision and working on next year’s programme for a while. “It’s become really apparent that although we have different interests, we have very similar tastes. We are bringing stuff to the table that the other hasn’t heard of and in every case so far we’ve really liked the suggestions! With two of us, we can cast a really wide net and it’s going to be really interesting and exciting to see how it all pans out!”

Ali has passionate views about the art form and fellow cabaret artists. She believes strongly that Australians have been at the forefront of cabaret over the last 15 years, heading what she calls ‘neo-cabaret’. “There’s been a real resurgence in cabaret. It’s exciting, risky and dangerous and it’s grown in artistic merit too.”

She continues, “I feel that cabaret’s time is here. I think audiences are drawn to it because it feels entertaining and funny. And, then they realise that it’s really intimate and is filled with social commentary and the issues being talked or sung about really resonate with us all.”

When John Glen, the Festival’s producer, called her about the role and asked if she had any thoughts about acts they might look into, she laughed! “I had to admit I’d been collating names and contacts on my iPhone over the last 6 years!

“I’m really keen to bring to Adelaide many of the wonderful Australian performers, many of whom are now close friends, who I’ve been lucky enough to work with at festivals all over the world.”

With a background in opera she has seen how some art forms, principally theatre and opera, can alienate and exclude audiences. “I don’t think it’s done intentionally, but often I think people worry that they aren’t educated enough to go and see it. The beauty of cabaret is that it is so inclusive. It never talks down to anyone.”

With so many possibilities it seems the biggest challenge looks like it could be fitting all into the Festival’s two weeks, but Ali is clear they do have some guiding principles to help make the right choices. “I don’t want cabaret to ever lose its unique intimacy and true engagement with the audience. I want to be sure that every performer can bring that to this Festival.” 

With both Eddie and Ali being young parents, including acts which have an appeal to parents and children too is high on her priority list. “It is so important that children are introduced to real music from an early age. And I’d love to include shows that the whole family can come to and enjoy together. Apart from it being such a great thing to do, the appeal for parents of no babysitter is a big plus!”

Ali’s CV clearly demonstrates that she is no stranger to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Apart from one, she has performed at all since her debut in 2009. She laughs recalling a moment, “Once I performed with Stephen Schwartz when my daughter was just 6 weeks old! I remember having to wear a sparkly kaftan as I really wasn’t able to get into non-pregnancy clothes, and she was sleeping in the wings while I was on stage.” For many reasons, the Festival has become a very big part of her life.

“When I was first here, I remember thinking, I’ve found my home. When I was in opera I loved it but I always felt like a bit of an outsider, and it was the same when I was heavily involved with Jazz. But I came into this wonderful world of cabaret and thought, these are my people.”

So, as Barry makes his exit, leaving behind the most profitable and successful Festival since it all began, Ali and Eddie take centre stage. Whilst everyone will be sorry to see Barry go, as the cheers from the audience testify, the largest cabaret festival in the world is now in very different but very good, safe hands.

Given it’s cabaret, some may even go as far to say it’s worked out ‘Perfect Ali’.