Friday, February 02, 2007

Karen Egan's Cabaret

“Sorry if I sound a bit incoherent, but my day began a long time ago, on a ferry in the West Indies,” says the very coherent Karen Egan, now back in the safety of her Dublin home.

Egan has just returned from the island of Becquia, whose Music Festival has just played host to the Irish singer and comedian’s particular take on “cabaret.”

“It was kind of odd: picture if you will a stage looking out onto a beach, with people picnicking on the shore. How in the name of god did you end up there, people ask me…”

The answer, very roughly, is via Edinburgh. Egan took her cabaret show, long a staple of these shores, to the Scottish capital’s Festival, where good reviews saw her winning fans in the most unexpected corners of the globe.

Since she left comedy girl band, the Nualas, Egan has (alongside the odd bit of acting) been performing shows which generally go under the heading cabaret, mixing songs from Kurt Weil, Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel with her own often very funny compositions. But what is it, this thing called cabaret?

“The more I use the word cabaret, the more I become loathed to pin it down…I think it can be quite a dirty word, or an off-putting one at least,” says Egan. “I suppose it is one I’ll have to drop eventually. I don't want to be the old lady lying on the piano on a cruise ship…”

“And for some people, “cabaret” just conjures up something awful. Honestly, people have come up to me after a show and said: "Wow! I thought I was going to hate it! It really sounded like an awful night's entertainment! And it wasn’t bad at all!” which is not exactly the way I'd like things to work.”

On stage, Egan has claimed to be "half German" "half French" or indeed “half Turkish”. She is, in fact, the full Irish. So is all the joking around about her nationality an indication that there something about being all-Irish that is, well, not very cabaret?

”Oh god yes! If you think of all the singers who are out there. Maria Tecce, Susannah de Wrixon, Camille O'Sullivan, Caroline Moreau…and I just thought [putting on best all-purpose rural Irish accent] “Karen Egan” coming out and doing her songs? Who was going to take her seriously..?

What Egan brings to the cabaret concept, of course, are the skills of a comic actress, which as it turns out, are frequently what’s required to deal with the distinctly artificial character of a night of songs from the 1930s.

The same skills are put to use in her other current project, acting in Corn Exchange’s deservedly durable production, Dublin By Lamplight, with which she will soon by off to the islands once more, touring to Tasmania.

This time around, by the way, the cast of DbyL does not contain Mark O’Halloran, but does contain Tadhg Murphy, last seen in a very fetching frock and blonde wig in Stuart Carolan’s Empress of India. Egan, who attended the Gaiety School of Acting alongside O’Halloran (and devised the very funny Lovely Betty with Adam and Joe auteur) is sanguine about O’Halloran’s absence from the piece.

How could anyone ever yell “Up the Republic!” with the correct degree of campy Geal-ish bravado, you might imagine. “I’m sure Tadhg will just make the character his own in a different way,” says Egan.

“But before any of that,” says Egan, “I myself, Karen Egan, am going on a tour…Also, I have a new guna,” she says, disappearing into the ether.

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