Opera singers Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen return to Adelaide following performances at this year’s Adelaide Festival in a concert version of Rufus Wainwright’s opera Prima Donna (Dark) and in Barrie Kosky’s Glyndebourne production of Handel’s Saul (Breen) to wallow in a schlock horror production wherein the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Strange Bedfellows, Adelaide Cabaret FestivalJacqui Dark and Kanen Breen. Photograph © Jeff Busby

In their new cabaret show Strange Bedfellows – Bedlam, it would appear that the inmates have locked away the staff and helped themselves to copious amounts of self-medication, aided and abetted by the ‘lithium-based’ musical therapy offered by musical director, Daryl ‘Daggers’ Wallis on keys.

Bedlam is equal parts opera, Weimar period cabaret and pop shlock arrangements where Hanns Eisler sits easily alongside Twisted (Annie Ross, Joni Mitchell), Sting and even the Ramones in an eclectic programme of songs, creating a show where the performers appear to be having as much fun as the audience – and herein lies the key to the show’s success. Add this to the fact that these guys can and do sing anything. The setting of the Ramones medley to the final lieder from Schumann’s Dichterliebe is a perfect case in point, not to mention the self-composed shockers like Dark’s down-home homage to female stimulation. So do be prepared for some rough and salacious language but also a down and dirty good time.

What makes this show such an unqualified pleasure comes down to the fact that here are two classical singers who are still at the peak of their career vocally. Yes, many, many classically trained singers have turned their hands to Gilbert and Sullivan, Brecht and Eisler, but often long after their voices have gone into decline. Dark, however, is able to indulge in such capers and still take on Wagner’s Ring cycle and other equally demanding productions, while Breen can excel in this forum, as well as in an eclectic range of operatic roles from the Baroque to the likes of Britten.

Here is a show which brings in everything that we expect in effective cabaret. From the Weimar period, we get the political edge and “the dancing on the lip of a volcano” as it were, and the questioning on so many levels – be it sexual, musical and/or social – not to mention the high camp component which Dark was able to bring to Wainwright. Even without the corsets and concertinas, everything needed is there or implied within the voices. Pathos, gravitas and humour abound and are just where they should be, as demanded by the composers.