The premise of ‘Unlimited Unleashed’ is simple enough – some of the performers of various Unlimited productions do something on stage that they don’t normally do. The result is a stunning, chaotic cabaret night. Nina Muehlemann reports from this very special variety show.
“Gobble gobble, one of us! We accept you, gobble gobble!” various voices are whispering the iconic chant from the film ‘Freaks’, and they seem to come closer and closer, until they are behind us.
Various performers of Unlimited, amongst them compere Liz Carr, Garry Robson and Claire Cunningham, are coming through the audience until they finally get to the stage. The opening for ‘Unlimited Unleashed’ is fun, daring and a big celebration of crip culture.
The Clore Ballroom is busy, but Liz Carr and the other performers have no problem to grip everyone’s attention. Garry Robson takes over and sings some cabaret-style 'low-down dirty cripple' songs, accompanied by Sally Clay on the piano. They are beautiful together and the songs are infused with humour, which is emphasized through Caroline Parker’s brilliant signing. Overall, a great first act.
When the wicked Liz Carr returns on stage, she explains that while the performers are supposed to do something ‘a bit different’, mostly she has no idea what they are going to do – she is just as surprised by the acts as the audience is.
In many cases, the performances include music: Julie McNamara and Caroline Parker do a beautiful duet of Bette Midler’s The Rose, Claire Cunningham and Sally Clay do piano ballads together and hilariously reveal that they might call themselves ‘Blinky and the Lame’. Then there is a wonderful tribute to Kate Bush when she does a signing version of Wuthering Heights that is so intense and over the top that it gives Bush’s obsessed, witch-dance a run for its money.
A completely different tribute, namely to 80’s popstar Olivia Newton John, comes from Caroline Bowditch, who, dressed up in sweat bands and shorts, asks us to join her routine to get Physical. She has two assistants, played by Liz Carr and Katherine Araniello, and while they happily dress up in 80’s workout gear, they do not want to join in and do the workout moves, out of fear that a social worker is in the audience and will take their benefits away. The whole number is fabulously camp and the most entertaining workout I have ever done.
Katherine Araniello and Jenna Finch, meanwhile, give a new spin to last year’s sexist summer hit Blurred Lines as the ‘Feral Ladykillers’, when their performance to it suggests, with an eye-wink, that it is their sexuality that is wild and dangerous.
The two highlights of the evening come from Robert Softley Gale and the duo that is Touretteshero and Captain Hotknives. Robert Softley Gale is coming on stage in a fabulous pink sparkly dress, lying in front of us with his laptop, whose screen is projected for the audience.
Suddenly Charlene’s gay anthem ‘I’ve never been to me’ is blasting out of the speakers, and drag queens appear in the screen. Softley Gale then projects his own face in front of the drag queens and begins lip-syncing to the song. He also applies mascara and lipstick to his face, and the end-result is rather erratic, but wonderfully charming. Every now and then he embeds funny one-liners into the song via text to speech software, such as “Will I poke out my eye with this mascara? Quite possibly!”
The whole performance is done with a lot of glee, joy and unbelievable charm, nerve and charisma. The performance shows how fun, magical and utterly celebratory it can be when queer culture and crip culture come together. By the end of his performance, Softley Gale is dragged off the stage by Julie McNamara under loud cheers and applause.
The evening ends in complete joyful chaos when Touretteshero and Captain Hotknives are taking over the stage. They call themselves the ‘Bipolar Tourettes Alliance’ and engage the audience in shambolic sing-alongs (every audience member has to make up their own words), an impossibly fast-paced game they call ‘Tourette’s I Spy’, and play the songs with the most erratic and possibly dirtiest lyrics the Clore Ballroom has ever heard.
All this is accompanied by Touretteshero’s joyful outcries of ‘Biscuit!’ and ‘Hedgehog!’, ‘a sexy otter thinking about catnip’ and something about Disney’s Aladdin, too obscene to write here. Performance has rarely been so chaotic, or so unforgettable.
All in all, ‘Unlimited Unleashed’ was a wonderful celebration of disability arts, crip culture, crip humour and two hours of absolutely amazing cabaret. The only thing I would want change about ‘Unlimited Unleashed’ is for it to happen more regularly. It’s the perfect, suprising, chaotic, laughter-inducing night out.