Brighton Fringe 2016
Cabaret legend Dusty Limits performs his first album of original work written with Michael Roulston. 13 dark, delicious and despicable songs lurching from comedy to tragedy and back again, strung together with Mr Limits’ unique insights into life, love and wine.
Dusty Limits and Michael Roulston: the perfect combination when it comes to unforgettable songs with lyrics that bite even as they amuse. In their joint production of Grin, a performance of their first album of original work, we hear thirteen very special songs accompanied by a band that sings when necessary…and sometimes when not. The quality that sets this cabaret apart from any other you will see is the philosophical content of each song laced with a shocking combination of humor and angst.
The first song, “Is it Too Late” opens with Limits observing, “Life. I don’t think you are for me,” and continues “I preferred that I never was.” The lyrics touch on wine, death, himself and monkeys. ….topics that don’t seem to go together but in this rendition they most certainly do. This spiece is not a jolly ditty one would hum in the shower, nor one we would serenade to our loved ones…but it is something to ponder and is beautifully rendered with just the right accompaniment from the “outlandishly handsome” band.
The four members of the ensemble are: Bass – Tom Mansi, Drums – Jonathan ‘Kitch’ Kitching, Violin – Laci Olah and the composer himself, a genius at the keyboard (to this reviewer): Michael Roulston. All five men on stage are part of every number, playing, singing, reacting to the music and the thoughts the lyrics present. Dusty Limits stars center stage but the members of the band make the show an ensemble piece. They are perfect backdrops to the main event.
In the second song, “Nobody’s Fool”, Limits says, “I’m tired; I’m drunk; I’m nobody’s fool and the audience wonders how anyone can be all three. The third song is a flight of imagination that asks the very questions we dare not admit we want to ask in this twenty-first century: “Should I father a child with a lesbian couple?” Because making a child it isn’t just about having a baby, it is what the baby will turn out to be and the life it might not like having that we forget to consider.
The mood darkens as it always does in a Dusty Limits Cabaret when we get to song four. “I was trying to pretend I was ok with being single,” Limits tells us. Yet he looks at couples and how we define what relationships demand of us and he says, “Give me anything but Love.”
The next song describes the block every creative person has about life, about work, about love. It is called “Fifth April “ and Limits says, “I can’t seem to begin to write this song; I can’t seem to begin to live this life.’” And that after all is what we all ask ourselves. We know where we want to be, but we are at a loss as to how to start the journey.
The selections we hear in this show are all about the quiet desperation of the human condition and every one of them ring a bell with anyone who is trying to get through his life as unscathed as possible. But Limits and Roulston together do not just attack our inner insecurities in the songs they write; they also talk about places that mean something special to them. In song 6, they observe the personality of Edinburgh, a city they know all too well, for each has performed there together and alone innumerable times. “There is an air of death about it,” says the song. “It is the ultimate graveyard of hope; a late night stroll through Stockbridge; and this is the end of the world.” These are lyrics that paint a bleak picture of the Edinburgh Fringe where endless money and time is invested in every show with the inevitable sense of loss at the end when so very few have achieved the audiences they hoped for, the reviews they wanted, the satisfaction they were so sure would be theirs.
In every Dusty Limits/ Michael Roulston show there is black humor and the next song has a lighter touch with a few barbs to remind us that we aren’t the only ones who hate family gatherings. The song is called Reunion and Limits says, “We are the branches of my rotten family tree.”
The program continues to pick at our preconceived notions with “Dear Mr. Cardinal” a song about Gay Marriage and then “Never Sober,” a song about addiction and alcohol. “You know it is an addiction and its getting worse. God only knows the where and the why.”
Each song in the program rips at modern culture. In “Poor” Limits sings “My teeth are my own but my tan is fake; Frankly I’d rather be poor.” The next song is about the homeless, the invisible people that line our streets. The next selection is laced with sarcasm and is aimed at Lord Jeffrey Howe, the architect of Margaret Thatcher’s policies: ”Don’t help the aged; send them on their way….” In fact ignore the helpless, the ill, the weak the disenfranchised…” Really?
Limits changes the pace with a rousing drinking song with the audience joining in. “Drink to me my friends and drink yourself to death.” The program’s finale is the title song, Grin: “Life is sometimes cruel and often dull; try to grin and bear it like a skull.”
Not an optimistic theme despite the title of the show but one that makes you think about who you are and what you really believe. To attend a Dusty Limits/Michael Roulston show is to come face to face with your own humanity, your inadequacies, your broken hopes, your failures.
However, this show is much more than a philosophical romp into the dark, scary places in our hearts. It is marvelous, fast paced entertainment start to finish. Dusty Limits is a joy to watch. He is professional, polished and dynamic. His songs are delightful, his presentation memorable. Roulston and Limits have worked together for fifteen years and are the trailblazers for the London cabaret scene. This show is a culmination of all they have done together. It is a work of art, a treasure and an unforgettable experience .