Fascinating Aida– on their group dynamics. An interesting perspective before their show Charm Offensive opens at St James Theatre.
There is a particular dynamic when working with a group of performers as opposed to beavering away as a solo artist with either a regular pianist or pool of musicians to call upon as required. Teamwork between creatives has its own set of joys and pitfalls, and this is exemplified by the experience of veteran cabaret trio Fascinating Aida.
Founder member and leader of the group Dillie Keane tells me that the group originally started by a series of ‘accidents’, originally with her singing in bars and playing piano for other actors, perhaps working on an audition song and her badgering them to join her in the wine bar performance. Eventually,a trio was formed and they were able to make regular appearances on radio and television programmes such as Stop the Week, After Hours, People Like Us and TV-am. Some of their most famous songs include Herpes Tango, Shattered Illusions and Lieder.
The first incarnation of Fascinating Aida included Marilyn Cutts and Lizzie Richardson joining Dillie – 3 actresses. There are many advantages to being in a group – bouncing ideas off one- another, different perspectives, and shared laughter and tears. The early ‘80s proved successful and they were doing well, but the times came when Marilyn and Lizzie each wanted to return to their acting careers. Lizzie went home to her native Canada after 6 months, and Marilyn stayed for 3 years.
These can be a difficulties for any group – diary conflicts, artistic differences and just different aspirations. Marilyn really enjoyed the acting process – becoming a different character and presenting a piece of work and then returning to her normal self, remaining fairly private.
The job of a cabaret artist is just not like that. To quote from the International Cabaret Conference at Yale “Cabaret is being yourself, only doing it on purpose”. It is personally exposing. Breaking the 4th wall of suspended disbelief is an integral part of the performance, and afterwards book and CD signing is often the norm. One has to like this social side of it to be happy in the job, and Marilyn didn’t particularly.
Nevertheless, when needed she returned from time to time, sometimes quite heroically, and helped the group out when the 3rd member pulled out for one reason or another, and was able to enjoy it more then, knowing it was not to be a permanent post for her.
Various people have joined them over the years, including Adèle Anderson, now one of the key central members, and from 1994 to 1999 Issy Van Randwyck, who very much elevated the glamour quota. Being a Baroness, she got the group invited to sing at the grander classier end of corporate gigs and they also wrote three diary pieces for Tatler about their round the world trip which took in Australia, New Zealand and New York. She too was offered very tempting acting parts, including a James Bond film. She turned down that offer because of diary clashes with FA, and Minnie Driver took it – who went on to become a major Hollywood star.
As different artists joined and left as the third member, each has in time joined in the writing of new material, with Dillie overseeing the artistic direction, ensuring the vision for the group as a whole remains intact and is served.
The individual members, though naturally discouraged from booking clashing dates, do still actively follow their own individual solo careers. Liza has appeared in opera and a number of musicals, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Dr Doolittle, and is developing her own solo show, Adèle has her solo shows and writes music in a jazz idiom, and Dillie also acts on television, continues to write songs and has written columns for various outlets, including The Stage and The Mail on Sunday.
The trio have broken up and re-formed a number of times over the years since its inception in 1983, and the changes of personnel has been amongst the reasons. There was also a time of tragedy for the group when their Musical Director and pianist Russell Churney died, and no-one felt like performing anything.
In 2008, however, they decided to get together once more for a 25th anniversary celebration with new material at the 70 seat Jermyn Street Theatre and a small tour. It led to three nationwide tours and more international work, and they put out a youtube clip of one of their more recent songs Cheap Flights which went viral and has been translated into several languages.
The phenomenal success of the group is no small measure due to the tremendous drive and energy of Dillie, herself. According to Adèle, she has a mind which takes in everything at the same time, making the term ‘multitasking’ seem a piece of cake. Even when performing, she is able to monitor and be thinking of other things and is never one to waste time. It was whilst on holiday that she sat down with Adèle on a free evening to write Cheap Flights. Although, it was not something Adèle would normally do on a holiday, a bottle of wine was ordered and off they started!
They are now about to perform their latest show Charm Offensive, this time with Liza Pulman in the main house of St James Theatre on 11th May as part of the London Festival of Cabaret. Their satirical view of the world will contain some outrageous old favourites and some new work and I, for one, am greatly looking forward to seeing it.
I was able to see the one-hour version of the show in a Sunday matinee performance, and was delighted by it. The humour ranges from gentle to scathing, with some exquisite rhymes and one item full of pathos.
There are some sharp observations of modern-day life covering a range of pertinent topics, such as baby boomers, the ageing process, education and Ofsted (a subject close to my heart – had me cheering) and some wonderfully funny musical vignettes in the send-up of Balkan classical song. I especially like the gag regarding Russia annexing the Crimea.
The standout song for me, though, was the beautifully poignant Old Home, with lovely harmonies serving the blend of the three voices well, building to an effective echoing of the lines at the conclusion.
Keane suffered an accident a few days ago resulting in bruised ribs. I also learned later that Anderson too was nursing a pulled hamstring. They went ahead valiantly, and Dr Theatre worked his magic, so that though their dances were more limited than usual, their movement was still beautifully timed and very funny.
These ladies show no sign of slowing.