Award-winning vocalist, director and compere Dusty Limits has been at the forefront of the London cabaret scene for over a decade.
He has performed all over the world, from London to New York, Amsterdam to Berlin, and has shared the stage with many of the most exciting performers in the ‘new cabaret’ scene. Described as ‘the Trailblazer’, he was one of Time Out magazine’s ten cover stars for their special edition on cabaret. He is the director and resident host of the stunning Black Cat Cabaret every Friday at the Café de Paris.
The cabaret star and dangerous drinker is soon to be seen presenting a one-hour show at The Soho Theatre celebrating the big things: life, death, sex, drugs, but mostly singing. Wickedly comic and bracingly honest, Post-Mortem is a self-penned musical obituary, charting a life lived badly. The show incorporates songs from each of Dusty’s previous solo shows, plus some brand new offerings, strung together by implausible reminiscences and barbed observations. The show was a huge success at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe and was shortlisted for the inaugural Time Out & Soho Theatre (TO&ST) Award.
I caught up with Dusty to talk obituaries, cabaret and Spiegeltents.
Can you tell us a bit about ‘Post Mortem’?
We were planning last year’s Fringe show and thinking about how to get our work out to new audiences, and the idea of an obituary came to me – a kind of edited highlights of a life, told through songs. So we took some songs from each of the previous solo shows I’d done and smashed them all together to see what emerged. In planning it I had to write my own obituary, so we could put the songs in the right order, and I highly recommend that as an exercise. It’s both humbling and inspiring and certainly focuses the mind. This version of Post-Mortem is updated and reworked; one song in particular, Dear Mr Cardinal, about a certain Scottish cardinal with a penchant for mouthing off against gay marriage, has had to be very extensively updated. It’s now my favourite part of the show.
You’ve covered such an eclectic range of artists in the past. What can we expect to hear in Post Mortem?
Just as eclectic as ever: Hollander, Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Stephen Merritt, Cole Porter, David Wilcox, a bit of gospel, plus quite a few original numbers… everything except Kurt Weill. My MD, the brilliant Michael Roulston, pointed out that it’s very strange for us not to have a single Kurt Weill song. Next year’s show will be all Weill!
There’s a huge element of darkness to your work which I absolutely love. What inspires you to work comedy with themes such as self-harm, death and the pointlessness of love?
When I started out I realised that trying to copy other comics was pointless. I could only write the stuff that made me laugh personally and hope other people laughed too. As it happens, those dark subjects are the ones that make me laugh. It’s why I love the Tiger Lillies. I’ve suffered from depression most of my adult life, and learnt to find the humour in it, probably as a coping mechanism. I was a very morbid child.
You’re very much at the forefront of the recent cabaret revival. For those not initiated into the scene, what can they expect from 21st Century cabaret?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now – this age of cabaret in London is up there with 19th century Paris, Berlin in the 20s and 30s and New York in the 50s. I think what makes this current scene so exciting is the breadth of skills on display – from amazing circus to clowning to puppetry to opera etc etc etc. What’s more, the people who make true London cabaret are committed to it as a form in itself. They’re not just musical theatre singers in between theatre jobs. I love (good) musical theatre, but I’d much rather go see Bourgeois and Maurice sing original stuff than sit through someone belting out Being Alive or I Dreamed A Dream…
You perform at some great venues including The Café de Paris and the famous Spiegeltent. Do you ever feel the ghost of Marlene at your shoulder?
Absolutely. She whispers in my ear occasionally. Mostly trash-talk. It’s actually quite weird to be on stage and realise you’re standing where Dietrich/Coward/Garland stood.
Do you have any hot tips for us of any up and coming cabaret stars we should look out for?
I won’t single out individuals, but I will say – get yourself down to the Double R Club. That’s where cabaret turns go to do the kinds of acts that they just can’t do in mainstream venues. It’s niche – all the acts are inspired by the works of David Lynch – but it’s very exciting.
Finally, where do you get your amazing wardrobe from?
It’s sort of cobbled together, to be honest. I’m fond of a cock feather trim. I absolutely hate shopping, so I tend to buy bits and pieces online and then sew them together clumsily. A lot of pricked fingers go into that trimming. I bleed for my audience.
Post Mortem runs from the 9th to the 13th of July at The Soho Theatre
Book here tickets: http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/dusty-limits-post-mortem
Read more about Dusty here:http://www.dustylimits.com/Dusty_Limits/Home.html
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.