Before renowned cabaret artist “I’ve got something to say” Michael Dalley enters the intimate black curtained venue of Chapel off Chapel for Rituals of Art and Hatred, you instinctively know the scene has been set for a quality evening because to left of stage is a shiny black grand piano. While I feel sure Dalley could perform equally well accompanied by a honky tonk piano or a tin whistle, his script is about our hypocrisies, two-faced pretensions and up-market aspirations. And he is an expert at exposing these weaknesses with sabre like wit and tongue-in-cheek humour.
While musical collaborator John Thorn delivered music to match the quality of the timeless and beautiful piano, Dalley’s educated and insightful intelligence did the same with the words he’s carefully crafted while juggling his full-time teaching job in a secondary school. And some of his students may have been in the audience, as it roared as he delivered his first serve at “private schoolboys doing satire with Penguin classics on their shelves”.
Dissecting Dalley’s satire can in no way do it justice. Each perfectly honed story delivered its barbs as a whole, like a good short story, leaving the audience to collapse with laughter or wriggle with embarrassment if anyone was an enthusiastic art collector from the Mornington Peninsular or had the table manners of the petit bourgeoisie.
“My duty is to tell the truth. I much prefer to break your heart than flatter you with lies,” he proclaimed as he decried the practice of including children’s names on tattoos and wearing hessian in new age retreats with an integrational therapist.
The beauty of clever satire emerges when the shock is delivered with wicked humour and pathos. Having dismantled the superficiality of mock mansion in places like Portsea – “You can’t buy taste!” – Dalley, with excellent timing, exposed the cracks in the trend to downsize to high-rise living, concluding with the poignant line, “I’m sure I’d love my neighbours if I knew them”.
Dalley is a man of many talents with a strong, commanding voice that would do any opera company or musical theatre proud, but his creative representation of Kurt Weill, the great cabaret composer, was his piece de resistance, on a par with Barry Humphries’s recent interpretation of the Weimer cabaret period in Germany.
I was pleased the government got a serve for its unbalanced distribution of arts funding, but one can only hope that the determination of people like Michael Dalley (well deserving of his two Green Room Awards) to expose the flaws in our society with such humour will eventually allow him to give up his day job and give even more time to such a great art form.