Cole

Michael Griffiths has found a wonderful niche to inhabit. In his last two shows, he has performed cabaret in-character (respectively) as pop stars Madonna and Annie Lennox, as if he were hosting an 'Evening With...' type of event. But he takes a minimalist approach to the conceit, making no attempt to impersonate these women in terms of accent or dress. Rather, he simply dares us to believe, against all sense evidence, that this Australian man sitting before us in black trousers, white shirt and suspenders is, in fact, the Queen of Pop (or Eurythmics emeritus).

Griffiths has done something a bit different here, with Cole, making more of an attempt to mimic the legendary singer, songwriter and lyricist, Cole Porter. Perhaps this is because the potential for misinterpretation is much smaller, here: what marked his previous shows was how respectful he was of his subjects; how careful not to reduce them to caricature, or mock them from behind drag. (Not, of course, that drag is an inherently mocking art-form.)

And so, in Cole, Griffiths goes mid-Atlantic, affects the limp, and dresses somewhat more period in blue bow tie, checkered shirt, brown jacket and blue trousers. It works here, in that it allows Griffiths to adopt speech and mannerisms which do as much to indicate Porter's privileged background as hint at his sexuality. And it's an effect only slightly ruined when the accent occasionally dips or drops.

But what I love most about this show is that it builds flesh around this character, who I've previously only known from tinny, hissing recordings. (In fact, I'm such an ignoramus where it comes to Porter that I am only really familiar with one of his tracks, "Anything Goes", and that only because it's on the Fallout 3 soundtrack. Gasp, if you must.) Cole is primarily entertainment, but it is also an education, filled with enough detailed truth to at least work as a serviceable introduction to the man and his life.

It is on the final and most important detail, unfortunately, that this show falters. I blame the venue. Cabaret was not meant to be performed for bench seating, in a tent pitched in the middle of one of the noisier sections of the Garden. Consequently, I found it difficult to connect with performances of Porter's most well-known songs, many of which I was hearing for the first time: "You're The Top", "Let's Do It", "It's De-Lovely", "Love for Sale", etc. Griffiths wasn't bad, by any means, and he did his level best to ameliorate these issues, but he ultimately wasn't in the right venue to do this show justice.

★★★