Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner was in attendance, as were a throng of Australian and international arts lovers, and the famous Spiegeltent – rented out for the occasion of a showcase of Australian arts – was wreathed in the sort of deep silence appropriate to the consideration of difficult and searching performance.

Which was a pity really, since the entire program for the afternoon consisted of comedy and musical cabaret acts, with distinctly antipodean stuff such as the drag version of The Sound of Music ‘wowing’ the mostly-still-hungover punters.

Though there were some highlights – such as Ali McGregor doing a sort of punk-opera-hillbilly-I dunno version of Creep on the zither – this only added to the embarrassment more, since they turned out to be un-Australian.

Literally, as in American, and from other points west.

At the glittering reception afterwards – twisties under a canvas awning, which was at least in character – a few questions were asked about the exact composition of the event and why the line-up was missing some of the best Oz performers – such as Spicks ‘n Specks host Adam Hills (said to have pulled out, possibly wisely), and Meow Meow, extreme cabaret artiste Melissa Madden Gray who does a sort of deconstructive Brechtian version of the stuff that Kevin Rudd seems to enjoy winding down to.

But the true bewilderment was at the choice of host – London-based Oz stand-up Jim Jeffries, whose material (“I get laid a lot cos I’m a comedian, and a r-pist”) is not so much blue as well beyond the ultraviolet spectrum.

Jeffries has a kind of genius, but it’s a genius that turns on relating paedophilia to thrill kills in the Iraq war. Having filleted his edgiest material, consensus was that he was both boring and slightly dislikeable, which was presumably not the effect intended.

But it was the Deputy High Commissioner who tapped down the evening when he observed to one producer that government backing for performers touring the festival was unprecedented. “Yeah,” said the producer — busy filling his pockets with BBQ shapes to get through the rest of the week — “pity none of the ones here got any of it”.

Still at least it was the appropriate venue for a farce…

Peter Fray

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